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DAVID GILL, 1884 (;ET. 41). 
(From the portrait by Sir George Reid, P.R.S.A.) 




H.M. ASTRONOMER (1879-1907) AT THE 







All rights reserved. 

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SHORTLY before his death Sir David Gill's monumental 
work, A History and Description of the Cape Observatory, 
was issued by the Admiralty in a handsome volume. Any 
further complete summary of his scientific work would 
fill several volumes. Gill's contributions to astronomy 
are mentioned in this book only as throwing a light upon 
his character. His friends have expressed a desire to have 
some memories preserved of David Gill, the man, whom 
they had learnt to love. Primarily for these friends this 
book is written. During the twenty-seven years, how- 
ever, which he spent in raising the Cape of Good Hope 
Observatory to the highest position in equipment and 
work done, while astronomers were filled with admiration, 
the general public were not told much about what he was 
doing for science and the empire. A secondary purpose 
of this book is to make his personality, untarnished by 
self-advertisement, real for those who knew him not, 
and possibly as inspiring and elevating to some of them 
as it has certainly been to the biographer privileged to 
study the innermost workings of his mind. 

To David Gill astronomy was almost a religion. This 
reverence for his chosen science was tempered by human 
sympathies; and the present book, while telling of his 
growth, from schoolboy and watchmaker to leader of 
astronomical research, deals also with his friendships, his 
delightful social and domestic life, his humour, his enjoy- 
ment of the world and his varied employments, among 
which deer-stalking occupied a special place. 


Into all his work and recreations he had the power of 
throwing an enthusiastic eagerness and joy which were 
infectious and attracted to him a wide circle of companions 
in widely varied pursuits. 

The secret of the man's great happiness, which he 
dispensed to all who came in contact with him, was the 
selfless enthusiasm with which he enjoyed all that is 
beautiful in the world, and all that is true in human 
thought. He was a real man, and a real astronomer. A 
real astronomer, as known to David Gill and the older 
generations, is one who lives not by science but for 
science, and who becomes an astronomer not for self- 
advancement, but only because he cannot help it. 1 

The narrative part of these memoirs is divided 
naturally into three distinct sections. 

1. 1843-1879. The Growth of a real Astronomer. 

2. 1879-1907. The Work of a real Astronomer. 

3. 1907-1914. The Charm of a real Astronomer. 

To these are added in two appendices 
Specimens of his lighter correspondence; and a list of 
his scattered writings, preceded by a list of honours. 

My sincere thanks are due for permission to inspect 
the MSS. in possession of the Admiralty; also to the 
Directors of Observatories at Greenwich, Cape of Good 
Hope, Edinburgh and elsewhere, for access to records; 
and to a large number of Sir David's friends for giving 
me the opportunity of using the collections of letters 
written to them by Gill, or supplying me with other 
material ; and most of all to Professors Kapteyn, Hale, 
Elkin, Dr. Anita Newcomb McGee (daughter of Simon 
Newcomb), Mr. E. B. Knobel (who has kindly read the 

1 In the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, 
Feb. 1910, Vol. 70, p. 395, there is an address delivered by the 
president, Sir David Gill, K.C.B., on presenting the gold medal 
of the society to Professor Friedrich Kiistner. In the course of 
that address he gives us his appreciation of a real astronomer. 


proofs carefully and also compiled the Index), Sir Frank 
Dyson, Mr. Hough, Professor Sampson, Dr. Backhand, 
Mr. A. Hinks, Mr. R. T. A. Innes, the Earl of Crawford 
and Balcarres, Lady Darwin, Mr. Clerke, and Miss Violet 
Markham (now Mrs. Carruthers). 

Special mention must be made of the contribution 
by Mr. John Power, assistant at the Royal Observatory, 
Cape of Good Hope, with the collection of anecdotes about 
his late chief which are current at the Observatory. Our 
best thanks are also due to Mr. W. H. Wesley, the 
esteemed assistant secretary of the Royal Astronomical 
Society, for the labour he has bestowed upon the list 
of Sir David Gill's writings, printed in the Appendix. 

Lastly, this book could not have been compiled with- 
out the devoted attachment to Lady Gill of friends 
who have helped her to furnish me with material. We 
dedicate this book, as a small tribute, to her, hoping 
that, while inspiring others, it may keep green for many 
a long day some bright memories of a husband's life; 
knowing well that the value of his accurate observations 
and his inventions will not diminish, but will increase, 
with the centuries. 

I have no claim that entitles me to write these Memories 
except our long friendship. We became acquainted 
somewhere between 1869 and 1871. By the time when 
we foregathered at Hamburg for the meeting of the 
Astronomische Gesellschaft in 1873 1 we were old friends, 
with very similar tastes in astronomy and natural 
philosophy. He was then working at Dun Echt, and I 
at Greenwich Observatory under Airy. Both of us were 
preparing to observe the Transit of Venus in 1874; and 
both of us had just spent a few weeks, quite indepen- 
dently, in inspecting continental observatories. Then 
again, later, the preliminary work for my measurement 

1 It is a sad reflection that, of all the British astronomers 
(personal friends of my own) who were members of that associa- 
tion in 1873, I am the solitary surviving member. 


of the velocity of light was done on Dr. Young's estate, 
Durris, near Dun Echt, where I was able to visit the Gills 
in their home. 

During twenty years of my life I was trying to help in 
building up the infant profession of electric engineering , 
and our ways parted. But always on his visits home from 
the Cape we revived our friendship, and twice during his 
residence there I had the happiness of going to South 
Africa and seeing him at work. After my profession 
had become standardised, more entirely commercial, 
and therefore less interesting as a branch of science, I 
retired from it, to help in developing some naval and 
military inventions. Then Gill came home, and in his 
company I was able to resume my old tastes (it was he 
who induced me to write my short History of Astronomy] , 
while he wrote much of his last book in my " shed " at 
Pitlochrie a hermit's library in a pleasant grove. 

These are poor qualifications to offer for undertaking 
the task of writing the Memories. But the wonderful 
experience of reading his intimate, sympathetic and often 
racy correspondence has perhaps brought the writer into 
closer touch with the motives that inspired all his words 
and acts than contact even with his open and frank 
personality could alone have done. For, behind his genial 
accessibility there was a deep reserve, and a refusal to 
allow his left hand to know the good that his right hand 
was doing. There is little doubt that, out of all his 
friends, there is only one woman who knew some of the 
kind things he did which have now been learnt only 
through private letters, which cannot be reproduced. 

Little mention is made of any trivial controversies 
into which he may have been drawn. He often enjoyed 
the fray while it lasted and forgot all about it when over, 
and certainly he would not desire to have his opponents 
humbled, or his triumphs proclaimed. His transparent 
honesty and singleness of purpose to serve astronomy 
brought him success in many a controversy. He always 


gave credit for these qualities to an opponent, and could 
not conceive the possibility of any one denying them to 
him, or attributing any personal motive to him. 

Every one who had dealings with Gill saw in him the 
real astronomer. What value will be attached to his 
labours, centuries hence, the future must decide. We 
can now estimate the position that was assigned to him 
in life only by noting the number of honours (govern- 
mental and academic) conferred upon him by and through 
British and foreign astronomical bodies and universities, 
exceeding those conferred upon any living astronomer. 
These are enumerated, and precede Mr. W. H. Wesley's 
list of published scientific works. Such considerations 
are outside the scope of the present book. 

I trust and hope that these memories may lead many 
a reader to understand the man, his affections, his 
aspirations, his quests, his hopes, and his joy in being 
part of this glorious world. 


Kinnaird Cottage, Pitlochrie, 
August 2, iqi6. 


Facing page 

DAVID GlLL, 1884 (&T. 41) . . . Frontispiece 

(From the portrait by Sir George Reid, P.R.S.A.) 


LORD LINDSAY, M.P., F.R.S., P.R.A.S. ... 70 

(From Vanity Fair, May 1878.) 


1877 '94 



(Drawn from Table Bay by George Forbes, 1914.) 

PROFESSOR KAPTEYN . . . . . . .168 


AND MRS. GILL ....... 190 


WITH DR. AND MRS. GILL ..... 202 




("We are a very Darby and Joan old couple, who like to be 
together as much as possible." GILL to G. E. HALE, Jan. 
5, 1909.) 

THE END ......... 360 





Peter Gill (grandfather) David Gill (father) Mother, brothers 
and sister Dr. Lindsay Anecdotes of childhood College 
days Clerk Maxwell David Rennett. 

DAVID GILL was the eldest son surviving childhood of 
David Gill, watchmaker in Aberdeen, and of Margaret 
Mitchell, his wife. 

His grandfather was Peter Gill, a craftsman of rare 
ability, who lived to the advanced age of ninety-three 
years (b. 1757; d. 1850), and, along with his wife, David 
Gill's grandmother (Margaret Anderson, b. 1757; d. 1828), 
is buried in St. Peter's churchyard, Aberdeen. 

Peter Gill was admitted, on September i, 1783, to the 
Hammermen's Trade Corporation of Aberdeen. It was 
he who founded the prosperous business, as a clock and 
watch maker in Aberdeen, which existed for about a 
century under the names Peter Gill, David Gill, Gill and 
Smith, David Gill and Son, at 78 Union Street, now 
occupied by the Commercial Bank. The business was 
carried on in the first floor of this house, and the upper 
storeys formed for many years the residence of the family. 
Eventually David Gill, senior, son of Peter Gill, removed 
with his family to another house, at 48 Skene Terrace, to 
which he made additions. In this house young David 
was born. It continues, in spite of the westward exten- 
sion of the town, to stand as a commodious middle-class 
residence. It possesses a neat garden on the other side 
of the street, open upon all sides (except for a new 



building to Hie east), and it was in this garden that 
young David set up his first telescope. 

The name of -his grano^ather, Peter Gill, is still remem- 
bered, and even now his clocks are sometimes to be 
picked up. It is said that he was the last man to walk 
the streets of Aberdeen in the old-f ashjoned knee-breeches 
and fob. He was greatly respected by his townsmen. 
The family were all Episcopalians. 

Under his son, David Gill senior, the business became 
that of a wholesale dealer in, rather than a maker of, 
clocks and watches. This David Gill (b. May 26, 1789; 
d. April 6, 1878) married Margaret Mitchell (b. March 8, 
1809; d. December 18, 1870) from Savock in the parish 
of Foveran, some ten miles north from Aberdeen. They 
are both buried in the parish churchyard of Foveran. 
Their graves, with those of other members of the 
family, are enclosed by a railing against the churchyard 
wall south of the church. In the same graveyard there 
is another railed enclosure, twenty-five feet by eight feet, 
containing monuments over graves of the Black family, 
of which Lady Gill (Sir David's wife) was a member, 
beginning with the name of Alexander Black, b. 1693; 
d. 1769. At a later date, his descendants continued to 
occupy the farm, Linhead, within a stone's throw of 
Foveran Church. 

David Gill senior died in 1878, at the age of eighty- 
nine years. He was a magistrate for Aberdeenshire. 
One of his contemporaries speaks of him as a " very 
quiet, taciturn man of refined habits and a shrewd man 
of business." Others refer to him as a hot-tempered 
man one of them speaks of him as a curmudgeon, but 
adds that, in spite of this, he was civil and gentlemanly, 
and, in his tantrums, was well managed by his wife. 
Those who were able to get on with him were much 
devoted to him, and all agree that in his own house he 
was noted for his hospitality. In his later years his 
mental activity failed, and business matters devolved 

1843-60] PARENTAGE 5 

upon his eldest son, David, who became a father to 
the younger members of the family, to whom he was 
affectionately attached. 

David Gill senior succeeded well in his business. He 
was thrifty, and acted as his own " traveller." About 
1860, Major Robertson's large estate of Foveran came 
upon the market, and was divided up. David Gill 
senior invested 19,000 in part of this property, to which 
he gave the name Blairythan (accent on the " y "), con- 
sisting of farms extending over several hundred acres, 
but with no mansion house. 

The family consisted first of Patrick and David, who 
died in infancy in 1840 and 1841, and are buried beside 
their grandfather in St. Peter's Churchyard, Aberdeen. 
Then came David, the subject of this biography, born 
June 12, 1843; then Patrick Gilbert, born 1845, died 
1886 ; Andrew Mitchell, born 1846 ; James Bruce, born 
1849; and Margaret, born 1851, died 1892. 

Of these, David's brothers and sister, Patrick went to 
Australia about 1863, following the steps of his uncle, 
Andrew Mitchell (b. August 3, 1802; died at Foveran 
House, April 23, 1878), who made a fortune in Queensland. 
Pat, as he was called, came home for a visit in 1871. 
Again, later, after being home, he took his sister Margaret 
as far as Capetown on his way to Australia in 1881. He 
also paid one more visit to his brother David at the Cape 
in 1884 (see p. 163), on his return to Australia after a 
visit home. Patrick became a magistrate in Victoria, 
and also for Queensland. He died in 1886, June 21, at 
Melbourne, where he was buried. 

Andrew Mitchell Gill, of Savock and Auchinroath, 
resides in Scotland. 

James emigrated to Australia in 1867, and settled at 
Runnymede, Victoria, where he still lives with his wife, 
Ruth. He was home for a short visit in 1876. 

Margaret married the Rev. Henry Powell, Rector of 
Stanningfield, Suffolk. She died, soon after her husband, 


in 1892, leaving three sons, who were adopted by Sir 
David and Lady Gill, and brought up by them in their 
home at the Cape of Good Hope. 

The mother of David Gill seems to have been a par- 
ticularly lovable woman. She died in 1870, a few months 
after David's marriage, having been an invalid for some 
time previously. In later life, when any success came to 
him, he would say wistfully to his wife, " I wish my 
mother were alive. This would have pleased her." 

Mrs. Mitchell, who in 1858 married David's uncle, 

David and his mother were in particular sympathy 
with each other. She was a very intelligent woman, 
broad-minded, active, energetic, and, like her son, full 
of enthusiasm; she was much liked and esteemed by 
her relatives and friends; I have often remarked, when 
talking of her, how proud she would have been of her 
son's success. 

Mrs. Mitchell says also that she spent much time 
with Mrs. Gill in her last illness, and so she learnt 
from her, what is worth recording, that David used to 
sit long hours with his mother at that time, and to pray 
with her. 

As a boy, little Davie did not show any precocity. He did 
not figure as a genius or a prodigy at school or college, but 
as a cheerful companion with an affectionate disposition 
to his playmates and a certain reverence for his parents ; 
while his keen enjoyment in the amusements of the 
moment always made him a general favourite. So say 
those of his playmates who survive him. They tell of 
his love of Nature and of truth, the bases of his taste for 
science. And they all tell how completely he was free, 
even in childhood, from self-consciousness, and how he 
felt for others. His scientific enthusiasm, unusual in 
that community, was looked upon askance as eccentricity, 
and led his companions to say he had " a bee in his 

1843-60] CHILDHOOD 7 

His brother Andrew gives some early recollections. 

I remember in the old Skene Terrace days we were 
always walked to church, St. Andrew's, every Sunday, 
morning and afternoon, and when we got there, nearly 
always seated at the top of this seat were our two old 
aunts, Mary and May, who then lived in Bon-Accord 
Square, and to that house some of us often went to our 
midday meal. 

David as a lad, I remember, was a great chemist, and 
had a small room (used at one time by my mother as a 
storeroom) fitted up as a laboratory in the house in 
Skene Terrace. [This was after his schooldays.] We 
were as children all at school with the Miss Chisholms 
(fine old Highland ladies), whose school was in the house 
now incorporated with the Music Hall. Afterwards all 
the brothers in turn went to Dr. Tulloch's Academy, off 
Crown Street (the school is still standing). We then had 
also a tutor, Peter Shepherd (the son, I think, of a 
gamekeeper in the Strathdon district), who afterwards 
became, I think, a well-known Army doctor. David and 
Pat afterwards went to Dollar Academy. David did not 
much wish to go into my father's business. 

One of the few souvenirs of childhood preserved by 
Sir David Gill is a card bearing the following words, 
received when he was twelve years old 

Certificate of Superior Proficiency in Elocution, awarded 
by Competition to Master David Gill " Emeritus " and 
Prizeman of a former session. 

Bellevue Academy, Sept. 25th, 1855. 

In 1857, at the age of fourteen, he was sent to the 
Dollar Academy. He boarded with the head master, 
Dr. Lindsay, a man with scientific interests in mathe- 
matics, natural philosophy and chemistry, the very 
subjects for which the boy's mind was naturally recep- 
tive; and this was his first introduction to science. He 
used often, in later years, to rejoice in having at that age 
come into contact with a man so willing to help him in 
the discovery of his natural tastes, of which up to that 
time he was unconscious. In 1909, at the request of the 


present head master, Dr. Dougal, Sir David Gill gave 
away the prizes at the Dollar Academy. After speaking 
of his experiences at the^- school forty-six or forty-seven 
years previously, he said 

The Chairman had told them that he had been a very 
successful man, but he wanted to tell them that if he had 
been in some small degree successful, the man that put 
that capacity into him was a Dollar man, the late 
Dr. Lindsay. 

One of Davie's playmates from the age of eight, Gerald 
Baker, who has been in the Union Bank of Australia, at 
Melbourne, since the year 1863, when he last saw David 
Gill, writes to tell of the affection he has always re- 
tained for his old playmate, and adds some notes of 
no particular date. 

Davie was a boy that everybody liked, bright, clever, 
cheery, devoid of self -consciousness, and a stickler for 
truth. I don't think he made much show in the 

Davie was not a fighting boy, though combative in 
discussion, like all boys with brains. The only time I 
ever saw him receive a blow was when he was endeavour- 
ing to separate Archie Forbes and Johnny Murray, two 
of our friends, who were settling some point in Silver 
Street with their fists. Davie got hold of Johnny, and 
received a bad blow on the face for his pains. 

At Banchory Station these two boys once attended the 
arrival of the Queen on her way to Balmoral. 

We were both dressed alike in kilts black jacket and 
waistcoat, silver buttons, brown winsey kilt and tartan 
plaid (dark blue and green). 

Davie learned foil fencing and gave me some lessons in 
their backyard. Davie used to stand with his back to 
an old hen house with a trellis front, inhabited by one 
old hen, which had never been known within the memory 
of the Gill children to lay an egg. More by good luck 

1843-60] BOYHOOD 9 

than skill, in one of my lunges I struck Davie on the top 
of his mask and tumbled him backwards. The old 
trelliswork got the full weight of his body, and went down 
inside the hen house with a great crash, Davie on top. 
He lay motionless, and I thought I had done him some 
serious injury, especially as strange sounds seemed to 
come from him. His brother Pattie and I rushed to him 
to lift him up, but found he could not move for laughter ! 
Underneath him was the old hen, and the noise she made 
so tickled Davie that he could not get up for some time. 
We buried her decently. 

I remember he started to make a toy steam-engine, 
but the work of polishing the inside of the cylinder and 
fitting the piston beat him. He then took up chemistry. 
His father had a small attic room in their house in Skene 
Terrace fitted up with the necessary appliances for a 
beginner, and many happy hours he, Pattie and I spent 
in searching for elements. We used to rummage in the 
Rubislaw Quarries for likely specimens, and submitted 
them to all sorts of treatment, but nothing came of our 
work but keen excitement and pleasurable expectation. 

He never gave me any evidence in those days of his 
coming great career as an astronomer. If he had become 
a geologist I would not have been surprised, as he had a 
strong bent in that direction. 

His mental attitude as a boy differed from mine on 
many things; he was very conservative and prone to 
hug good old ideas. We quarrelled for some weeks 
because I sneered at the possibility of the devil having a 
corporeal existence. Davie stoutly held that such views 
were highly dangerous, if not blasphemous, but after a 
talk with his father he admitted that it was a doubtful 
question, and our friendship was resumed. 

As will be told presently, Davie returned from Dollar 
in 1858 to attend classes at Marischal College, Aberdeen ; 
and during the years 1861-2 was away from home learn- 
ing the trade of watchmaking, and from 1863 to 1872 
was in his father's business. 

No letters from David's oldest brother to him have 
been preserved, though some of David's to him have 


been found. Pat was the nearest to him in age and 
appreciation for, if not sympathy with, his scientific 
tastes. Neither, of the other brothers took the slightest 
interest in these pursuits. In fact, Jemmie rather despised 
them, because they were a barrier to the common interests 
of himself and David, whom he admired greatly. Both 
Davie and Jemmie were keen volunteers and marksmen 
with the rifle. James Gill sends the following short note 
from Australia 

In response to your request I am endeavouring to 
write what I can remember of my brother Davie when 
we were more or less boys. Davie was away at school at 
Dollar up to the time I was about ten years. Then he 
came back to Aberdeen and went to the University, 
during which time I had a tutor, and then went to the 
Grammar School and to the University. From the age 
of fifteen till I went to Australia in 1867 we were the 
greatest of pals ; we were both of us very proud of shoot- 
ing with gun and rifle. Davie became a volunteer about 
1861. I joined 1864, and we used to go to the rifle range 
at Nigg, 1 just over the river Dee, on fine mornings 
several times a week and practise rifle shooting. Davie 
was always a good shot with both gun and rifle, but he 
did best with the small-bore at long ranges 800, 900 and 
1000 yards. At that time he used a " Henry." He got 
into the Scottish Eight, but could not shoot the reason 
I forget. He won heaps of prizes at different times, and 
was a most enthusiastic volunteer. Davie and I were 
about equal with the old muzzle-loading " Enfield," 
which was the service rifle at that time. I won the 
Battalion Cup when I was seventeen, beating Davie 
amongst many others. 

As I have said before, I went to Australia in 1867, and 
saw nothing more of Davie till 1876, when I came home 
for a holiday. He was living then at Dun Echt, and you 

1 Note by Mr. Harvey Hall. The rifle range James Gill refers 
to was the one at the Bay of Nigg, on the sea coast about two 
and a half miles from Aberdeen. Many a day we have shot 
there together, and often went and shot twenty rounds before 
breakfast, five miles with a rifle. We thought little of it in those 

1843-60] BOYHOOD ii 

may be sure I saw as much of him as I could. I rejoined 
the volunteers, and with Davie used to put in a lot of 
time practising and shooting at the different " wapin- 
schaws." Of course, at this time Davie was over head 
and ears in astronomy. I knew it was coming when we 
were younger. Davie and I would be coming home from 
a ball, and Davie would " stick up " and would say, 
" Jem, look at that ! " gazing up at the sky. I would 
say, " Come on, Davie ; it's three o'clock." No good 
later he would do the same thing. All the same, he was 
the best of brothers, and had more knowledge and the 
reason why about anything than any other fellow I 
ever met. 

Mr. Alexander Davidson, of Wimbledon, was in his 
youth a fellow-student with David Gill at the classes of 
Clerk Maxwell and others in Aberdeen from 1858. They 
fraternized, and he stayed occasionally for a night in 
Skene Terrace. He says 

The feature which impressed me above everything else 
was his immense vitality. He was always keen in every- 
thing he engaged in, whether it were work or play, astro- 
nomy or rifle practice, sport or dancing. I never knew 
any one fonder of dancing than he, and he told me a few 
weeks before his last illness that he still delighted in it. 
He had in a very high degree the joie de vivre which only 
falls to a lucky few. 

I have also happy recollections of accompanying my 
friend to match-rifle practice on the seashore at the Bay 
of Nigg, at unearthly hours of the morning. Mr. Gill 
senior would not allow us to waste later hours of the day 
in so frivolous an amusement. 

On his return from Dollar to Aberdeen in 1858 he 
attended some of the classes at Marischal College as a 
private student, the term applied to those not seeking to 
qualify for a degree. The entries in the students' album 
are in his own handwriting. In the session 1858-9 he 
enters himself as " David Gill, aged fifteen, born at 
Aberdeen, son of David, watchmaker, attending ist 
mathematics and natural history." In this session he 


also attended Professor Brasier's class in chemistry. In 
the session 1859-60 his entry is in similar terms, attend- 
ing 2nd (highest) mathematics and natural philosophy. 
The prize lists give his name in the first of these sessions 
as being thirteenth in mathematics. In the second 
session he is fourth in the regular class of natural philo- 
sophy and third in the voluntary exercises for that class. 
His name also appears in the prize list of the chemical 
class, 1859-60, in which he is bracketed fourth with 
James Moir of New Deer. He got no prize for natural 
history, and in his second session of mathematics his 
name is not one of the sixteen prizemen mentioned. It 
must be noted, however, that his mathematics at this 
date were chiefly learnt from Dr. David Rennett, LL.D., 
the mathematical " coach " who taught all the best 
mathematical youth of the university. 

It was, then, in the session 1859-60 that Gill distin- 
guished himself in the work of the natural philosophy 
class, and came under the influence of that great, pro- 
found, unselfish and inspiring philosopher, Professor 
James Clerk Maxwell, in a year distinguished, as Maxwell 
used to say, for the ability of his students. Nine years 
later Maxwell wrote in a testimonial 

Mr. David Gill was one of my ablest students in Maris- 
chal College, Aberdeen. He was even then devising 
methods for the experimental determination of physical 

It has often been said of Clerk Maxwell at Aberdeen, 
as of Lord Kelvin at Glasgow, that his professorial 
lectures were over the heads of the very young men 
who attended the classes of Scottish universities. After 
the lecture, however, he used to remain sometimes for 
hours talking with three or four of his most eager dis- 
ciples, showing them some experiment on which he was 
engaged, or telling them about problems that awaited 


Gill's friends of later life must all remember how en- 
thusiastic he became when recounting his experiences 
under that great teacher. He has told us x that Maxwell 
gave them a few lectures on practical astronomy, " in 
one of which he exhibited a model of a transit instrument 
(made out of tin-plate and mounted on wooden piers)." 
This is interesting, for in the Life of James Clerk Maxwell 
(Macmillan, 1882), at p. 292, we read, in a letter to C. J. 
Munro, from Aberdeen, dated November 26, 1857 

I have had a lot of correspondence about Saturn's 
Rings, Electric Telegraph, Tops, and Colours. I am 
making a Collision of Bodies machine, and a model of 
Airy's Transit Circle (with lenses), and I am having 
students' teas when I can. 

Again, at p. 295 of Maxwell's Life, we read 

I am happy in the knowledge of a good tinsmith, an 
optician and a carpenter. The tinsmith made the Transit 

When Gill was shown this model he learnt not only the 
mode of using a transit circle, but also its errors and the 
methods used in measuring, and making corrections for, 
these errors. 

A love of paradox as a form of humour is not uncommon 
among men of great intellect, especially mathematicians. 
Clerk Maxwell indulged in it so much that many of his 
serious utterances were regarded by his friends in that 
light. His astounding proposal, in 1858, for a truly 
scientific standard of length, to be measured in wave- 
lengths of light, 2 to replace our arbitrary yard or metre, 
was regarded by many as a huge joke, until the time 
came when its value was proved by the most refined 
experiments. It then became Gill's duty, near the end 
of his life, to urge upon the International Bureau of 

1 History and Description of the Royal Observatory, Cape of 
Good Hope, 1913, p. xxxi, hereafter referred to as " History, etc." 
* The length of a wave of green light is about roforo inch. 


Weights and Measures the importance of defining the 
metre in terms of wave-lengths of light. 

Sir David Gill, in his presidential address to the British 
Association in 1907, paraphrased a lecture, on the yard 
as a standard of length, given by Clerk Maxwell at Aber- 
deen in 1859; and, as illustrating Maxwell's humour, a 
portion of it is worth reproducing here. Clerk Maxwell 
is quoted by him as saying of the yard 

At all events, you must see that it is a very unpractical 
standard unpractical because if, for example, any of 
you went to Mars or Jupiter, and the people there asked 
you what was your standard of measure, you could not 
tell them, you could not reproduce it, and you would feel 
very foolish. Whereas if you told any capable physicist 
in Mars or Jupiter that you used some natural invariable 
standard, such as the wave-length of one of the D-lines 
of sodium vapour, he would be able to reproduce your 
yard or your inch, provided that you could tell him how 
many of such wave-lengths there were in your yard or 
your inch, and your standard would be available any- 
where in the universe where sodium is found. 

This was the whimsical way in which Clerk Maxwell 
used to impress great principles upon us. We all laughed 
before we understood; then some of us understood and 

James Clerk Maxwell was, in the opinion of many, the 
greatest natural philosopher that the world has seen 
since the death of Isaac Newton, and his great book, 
Electricity and Magnetism, is one of the few volumes 
worthy to be placed on the same shelf with Newton's 
Principia. Gill had, all through his life, the highest 
veneration for any man of outstanding genius in his own 
line of work; and it was inevitable that, having sat at 
the feet of that great man from the year 1859 onwards, 
he should have said, towards the close of his life, " His 
teaching influenced the whole of my future life." 

During the period 1858-60, while attending classes at 
the university, he was at the same time coached in 

1843-60] DR. RENNETT 15 

mathematics and natural philosophy by Dr. David 
Rennett, the " Routh " of Aberdeen University. This 
admirable teacher was the idol of all his pupils, many 
of whom may be met to-day in the town of Aberdeen 
and within the precincts of the university. There can 
be no doubt that Gill owed to David Rennett the pains- 
taking instruction that gave him, during the whole of 
his scientific career, the power to deal effectively, under 
limitations, with every mathematical problem arising in 
his investigations. The circumstances of his domestic 
relations, and his father's fixed desire that he, as the 
eldest son, should succeed him in the watchmaking 
business, put all thought of a Cambridge mathematical 
degree out of the question, though he had in him the stuff 
out of which senior wranglers were made. 

Davie Rennett continued to be one of Sir David's dear 
friends till his death, and the teacher did not survive this 
favourite pupil of his a year. Shortly before his own 
death he wrote out the following 


Joined my Classes in November 1858 and was at same 
time attending Junior Mathematical Class at Marischal 

Attended the Classes of Senior Mathematics and 
Natural Philosophy at Marischal College, Session 1859-60. 

Very soon got quite enthusiastic over the work in the 
Nat. Philosophy Class. Was inspired by the then Pro- 
fessor, Clerk Maxwell, which led to a lifelong friendship 
between them. 

When he had finished his course at the University he 
still kept working at the subjects he had read there, and 
I then thought he was likely to direct his future work to 
Electricity ; but at that time there were very few facilities 
for experimenting on Electricity in Aberdeen. 

About this time he spent a year at Besangon, a great 
watch-manufacturing place. 

He suggested to some of the university professors that 
Aberdeen should have a time-gun, and on his proposal 


getting a favourable reception he soon carried out the 

Lord Lindsay and he on their return from the Mauritius 
stopped some time with the Khedive of Egypt. Dr. Gill 
measured a base line to be used for a future Trigono- 
metrical Survey of Egypt. The Khedive proposed to 
him to conduct that survey. 1 He asked my advice on 
the subject. My advice was not to have anything to do 
with it unless the financial position was made perfectly 
clear and safe. Egypt at that time was in a transition 
state, and the country was under the co-dominion of 
Britain and France. D. RENNETT. 

To explain. A large number of the students attended 
my classes in the winter during the College session and 
also during the summer. So that the future astronomer 
read with me from Novr. 1858 to April 1860. D. R. 

Sir David Gill was very fond of talking of his old days 
at college. On November 19, 1908, he presided at the 
fiftieth half-yearly dinner in London of the Aberdeen 
University Club. In the course of his speech he said 

I am told that on this occasion the proper thing to do 
is to recount to you reminiscences to tell you something 
of what I remember of my own career when I was there, 
or rather of the personages whom I encountered. Most 
of you, I may say, remember the man whom I first went 
to that sort of extra-mural professor, Da vie Rennett. 
I remember vividly the grand old Doric with which he 
used to teach us our mathematics. I remember one of 
these demonstrations in optics and he said, " Well, 
gentlemen, you know the light goes through the hole 
there, and it fa's on that mirror ; syne it stots aff, syne it 
gangs through the lens, and it's refracted to the focus." 
All these things come back to one now, but none of us 
who were ministered to by Rennett and received his 
ministrations in a sympathetic spirit will ever forget the 
debt of gratitude we owe to him. Do you remember 
Professor Nicol ? He was another character. . . . Then 
there was another man of whom I would like to say 
something a man whose memory sticks to me in a 
thousand ways, and a man of whom I had a tremendous 

1 See p. 78. 


idea that was Clerk Maxwell. He was one of two or 
three of the greatest geniuses who have lived since the 
days of Newton, and yet they did not understand him in 
Aberdeen somehow. He was not a schoolmaster at all. 
His lectures were terrible, and his experiments always 
failed but they were always much more interesting in 
the failure than if they had gone on. Those of us who 
chose to stay behind after the class used to get a most 
delightful hour or two, and learn an immense deal that 
we never forgot a great deal that we did not understand 
at the time, but that came back to us afterwards until 
Mrs. Clerk Maxwell arrived, wondering why the professor 
had not come home to his dinner, and carried him away 
nolens volens. 

There was another man who did not belong to Marischal 
College, but whom most of you who have been at King's 
knew very well David Thomson " Davie," as every- 
body called him. It was very much owing to Thomson 
and his sympathy that I began my astronomical career. 
I used to know him very well. He was very fond of 
smoking, and Mrs. Thomson did not like smoke. The 
observatory was a convenient place in which to keep 
churchwarden clays, and there was a stove there where 
these clays used to have the old oil burned out. Many 
a delightful hour I have spent there. 



Trade v. Science In the workshops Besan9on, Switzerland, 
Coventry, Clerkenwell Skill acquired Lord Kelvin In 
partnership Correct time for Aberdeen Professor David 
Thomson Practical astronomy at King's College. 

THE year 1860 nearly proved fatal to David's hopes 
for a scientific career. Clerk Maxwell left Aberdeen; 
and David Gill senior, having differences with his partner 
in the firm Gill & Smith, and being seventy-one years old, 
insisted that young David should enter the business. 

Up to this date Aberdeen University possessed two 
rival colleges, Marischal College and King's College, 
each with its own staff of professors and its own revenues. 
This anomalous condition was at last ended and the 
junior Professor of Natural Philosophy was retired. 

At this time young David Gill, though happy and 
contented with his place in life, had already absorbed so 
much of the spirit of genuine science as to be filled with 
desire, and conscious of power, to follow with humility 
in the steps of the great discoverers. This feeling set 
up a positive repugnance to devoting his life to trade. 
Still, he was not able, or did not consider it right, to oppose 
his father's wishes. So he finally consented to become a 
watchmaker, and took up his duties in Union Street. 
This, however, did not involve a desertion of science, for 
he still had the little laboratory in the attic in Skene 
Terrace, and later he set up a telescope in the garden. 

Meanwhile, he applied his chief energies to the fulfil- 
ment of his stern father's wishes, and arranged with him a 



scheme of education in the practical part of the profession, 
for acquiring, at the great centres of the industry, the 
mechanical skill required in the art of watchmaking. 
This course of instruction lasted through the years 1861 
and 1862. The great centres for the manufacture of 
clocks and watches in this country were Clerkenwell and 
Coventry. On the Continent Switzerland then, as now, 
held the foremost place. Accordingly the plan finally 
adopted was to make a preliminary visit to London, 
spend the next year in or near Switzerland, includ- 
ing Besan9on, and, seeing something of Paris on the 
way, to finish this part of his education at Coventry 
and Clerkenwell. 

A contemporary of that period, Miss Fanny Ranyell, 
has called up her recollections of the time and noted them 
in a letter to Mr. Arthur Wilson. 

I do not remember precisely how long he stayed on his 
first visit to London. He went to Switzerland for a time 
afterwards, and also to Coventry, all for watchmaking, 
but I could not fit these visits in chronologically. He 
certainly made more than one stay in London, and at 
one time belonged to a society, literary and scientific, 
I think, in Islington, and used to give lectures at the 
meetings. He used to stay sometimes at your father's 
house and spent a great deal of his time there when in 
lodgings. I remember him very, very well in those days. 
He was always very enthusiastic over everything he did 
that really appealed to him, but did not care for the 
watchmaking business. Very good-tempered and happy 
and taking everything in the best part, even when your 
father lectured him, which he used to sometimes as he 
would his own son. 

There can be no doubt that these years of work with 
his fingers, when learning to handle tools and to execute 
the most delicate construction, by skilful manipulation 
only to be attained in practice, and the experience in 
mechanical drawing, were of untold value to him, not 
merely in its primary object of improving and extending 


the operations of his father's business, but afterwards 
in supplying the technical skill required in the design, 
construction, alteration and use with his own hands 
of all those delicate instruments and complicated engineer- 
ing machinery with which he had to deal in later years. 
These are too often the weak points of a man who adopts 
astronomy as a profession. Then, again, his acquisition 
of at least a great fluency in the French language during 
his long residence in Switzerland, came to be of the 
utmost value to him later on. These years of application 
to manual labour and dexterity have probably done more 
for the progress of astronomy than could ever have been 
accomplished had he spent them on the study of advanced 

Long afterwards, when he was carrying on his work at 
the Cape Observatory, he expressed himself, in a letter 
to James Nasmyth, March 16, 1886, in these words 

You are quite right in saying, as you do to my wife, 
that I find the use of tools a great assistance. I assure 
you the best part of my astronomical education was the 
time I spent in a workshop. Here, far away from Grubb, 
or Cooke, or Troughton & Simms, many a mess I should 
have been in but for that training and many a change 
of great practical utility I have made on the instruments 
here with my own hands. 

At the beginning of 1862, on his return from abroad, 
he went into the workshops of Mr. Wooton at Coventry 
for six months, and finally completed his training by 
entering himself as " improver " in the business of Mr. L. 
Schuessler, a practical watchmaker, then at 23 Spencer 
Street, Clerkenwell. Mr. Schuessler is still living, and 
told the writer that it was in the summer of 1862 that 
David Gill entered his service to gain a knowledge of the 
London system of manufacturing watches, clocks and 
chronometers. During the six months he was there he 
occupied himself busily in this endeavour, and made up 
a number of watches on his own account. Mr. Schuessler 

i86o- 3 ] 'A SKILLED WATCHMAKER' 21 

said that when Gill began with him he was already a 
skilled watchmaker. He was energetic in searching all 
Clerkenwell for new ideas. Moreover, in that period 
he completed a marine chronometer, carrying out in it 
an invention of his own, consisting of an improvement 
in the compensation balance wheel. 

Among the friends he made in the watchmaking trade 
at Clerkenwell were the Haswell family, the old firm of 
Robert Haswell & Son, of 48, 49 & 50 Spencer Street, 
with whom Mr. Schuessler had almost daily dealings. 
Mr. James Haswell thus speaks of David Gill in those 

He was a young man then of delightful and courteous 
manners, with a cultivated taste, and a true appreciation 
of classical music. To recall the past is a pleasing task, 
for all associations with him at that time are very agree- 
able memories. My recollection is that he was naturally 
artistic and many-sided, that his gifts and taste were 
developed by training and cultivation. I may add that 
at this time we were living as a family at our place of 
business, and Gill used frequently to call. We much 
enjoyed his visits, my sisters were musical and he was 
pleased with their playing. On one occasion he gave one 
of them a copy of Beethoven's Sonatas which she still 
has. He came to London with the object of acquiring 
a wider knowledge of horological art than his home 
surroundings afforded. 

Our business association with him was continued after 
his return north. We had some transactions with him 
when he became astronomer at Dun Echt for the Earl 
of Crawford and Balcarres. 

I may also add that the late Sir David was a good shot 
at the rifle butts in those days. I remember being in 
Lauder my father's native town in Scotland when 
he happened to be there on a business journey. This 
must have been about 1864 or 1865. The Lauder Volun- 
teers I think they became the 5th Berwickshires were 
firing, and Gill, with his small-bore rifle, made the best 

Both Mr. Haswell and Mr. Schuessler speak of the 


inventive genius displayed by young Gill, especially in 
regard to pendulums and balance wheels. 

All the later friends of , Sir David Gill must remember 
the elegant clock, made with his own hands, which stood 
on the mantelpiece of his study at De Vere Gardens, 
Kensington. k 

His skill in clock design and construction was at first 
one of his principal claims to notice among scientific 
men, who very soon began to consult him on points of 
design. For example, a group of experimenters, members 
of the British Association, including Mr. C. H. Gimingham, 
who constructed Crookes' vacuum tubes, was formed 
into a committee, to apply the Crookes principle of repul- 
sion in vacuo produced by light as a means for timing 
the impulse to a pendulum for astronomical clocks without 
the friction of the usual pallets. Immediately, and as a 
matter of course, Gill was invited to join that committee. 1 

It was not in watchmaking alone that his practical 
skill and ingenuity were immediately recognized. For 
example, one day in the 'sixties of last century, Gill, 
quite a youngster, was in Glasgow, and entered the shop 
of an optician in Union Street kept by one James White 
(the small shop which developed into the great engineering 
concern known as " Kelvin & White "). While standing 
at the counter looking at some instrument he felt a slap 
on the back and, turning round, met the beaming face of 
his old professor, James Clerk Maxwell, who introduced 
him to his companion, Professor William Thomson (after- 
wards Lord Kelvin), saying, " You are the very man we 
want, to give us the benefit of your practical experience." 
They discussed with him some apparatus, and took him 
home to breakfast; and he then told his people that he 

1 This committee consisted of " Mr. David Gill, Professor 
G. Forbes, Mr. Howard Grubb, and Mr. C. H. Gimingham." 
See B. A. Report, 1880, p. 56; where the report by D. Gill is 
printed. It had been read at the Sheffield meeting in 1879. 
The gravity escapement of his great Cape sidereal clock is here 


thought it was the proudest moment of his life. This 
introduction led to a permanent and intimate friendship 
with Lord Kelvin, for whom he had the most profound 

On his return to Aberdeen, in 1863, his father made him 
a junior partner, and his firm from that time was known 
as David Gill & Son. 

David Gill's apprenticeship during two years was a 
symptom of the thoroughness with which he always 
faced a manifest duty, even so uncongenial a duty as 
entering upon a tradesman's career. Although during 
that period he could not make much progress in science, 
there is plenty of evidence that it occupied his spare time. 
Still, there is no doubt that his yielding to his father's 
wish had checked him in his earnest endeavour to find a 
career in science. Circumstances of no great importance 
in themselves did, however, combine, at and after the age 
of twenty, when he returned from his wanderings and 
settled down to the workshop, in the year 1863, to direct 
his thoughts more than ever before to the science of 
astronomy, not as before by reading books, or by gazing 
at the glory of Orion, but by personal observation and 
measurement with the real instruments. 

His first impulse in this direction was modest enough. 
He felt that even a humble clockmaker like himself might 
benefit his town by taking observations with an instru- 
ment something like the model of Airy's transit circle 
which Clerk Maxwell had shown him, and thus giving 
correct time to the town of Aberdeen. 

Accordingly, in the year 1863, while he was still assidu- 
ous in continuing his laboratory experiments in the attic 
of his father's house in Skene Terrace, he sought the 
acquaintance of the only man now able to help him since 
the departure of James Clerk Maxwell from Aberdeen. 
This was David Thomson, a remarkable man, and Pro- 
fessor of Natural Philosophy in King's College. 

David Thomson was born at Leghorn, received his 


early education in Italy and Lausanne, and became a 
student in Glasgow University, and a pupil of the mathe- 
matical Professor James ^ Thomson, father of the late 
Lord Kelvin. He then completed his education at Trinity 
College, Cambridge. After that he returned to Glasgow 
as assistant in natural philosophy to Professor Meikleham 
while William Thomson (afterwards Lord Kelvin) was a 
student in the class. When the professor's health gave 
way, David Thomson acted for him, and laid the founda- 
tion of his own remarkable skill as a teacher. His 
biographer tells us 1 

The future Peer [Lord Kelvin] and P. R. S. was 
continually in the laboratory with David Thomson, 
hearing a great deal about Faraday and his electrical 

His biographer, whose house at Largs is almost 
within a stone's throw of Lord Kelvin's, writes, " the 
younger man has neither forgotten nor discredited the 

In 1845 David Thomson, at the age of twenty-eight, 
was appointed " Regent and Professor of Natural 
Philosophy in the University and King's College, Aber- 
deen." For thirty-five years he continued to be one of 
its most effective teachers and, along with his colleague 
in the mathematical chair, Professor Frederick Fuller, 
sent up to Cambridge a long array of senior wranglers 
and high honours men. 2 

1 David Thomson, M.A., Professor of Natural Philosophy in 
the University of Aberdeen. A sketch of his character and 
career. By William Leslie Low, M.A., Rector of St. Columba, 
Largs, and Canon of Cumbrae. 

2 It is noteworthy that, in ten successive years, the Scottish 
universities sent to Cambridge five men who gained the senior 
wranglership, viz. 

G. M. Slesser (Aberdeen), 1858. 
J. Stirling (Aberdeen), 1860. 
T. Barker (Aberdeen), 1862. 
R. Morton (Glasgow), 1866. 
C. Niven (Aberdeen), 1867. 


This stern, inflexible professor was much respected by 
the students. 

By patience and perseverance he shaped the policy of 
the university to provide a scheme, and pressed it in the 
face of violent opposition, for abolishing the anomaly of 
two colleges. The " fusion " of these on the lines of his 
scheme was accomplished in 1860 ; and the history of the 
transaction may be read in his biography. 

At p. 102 in the biography of David Thomson we read 

Astronomy, too, had great attractions for him, and he 
spent many hours in the old square tower, which used to 
be called by the name of Cromwell, in the Observatory 
which he founded there. It was here that the present 
Astronomer Royal at the Cape, Dr. Gill, was inspired by 
Professor Thomson with his well-known enthusiasm for 
the science of the heavenly bodies. 

As a matter of fact it was young David who spurred 
the astronomical tastes of his senior. He went with an 
introduction to Piazzi Smyth at Edinburgh to inspect 
the transit instrument and the time gun; returned and 
got Thomson's help to rig up an old instrument at King's 
College, and observed stars to get the true time. 

Every clear evening I used to find my way to his house 
in Old Aberdeen, whence we adjourned to the observatory 
and worked with the transit instrument. There was a 
good sidereal clock, and we added a mean time clock fitted 
with arrangements for changing its rate by known con- 
siderable amounts, or by small known quantities, so that 
it could without difficulty be set or be kept within a 
small portion of a second of true Greenwich time. This 
clock I also fitted with contact springs, so that it could 
send electric currents, reversed at each alternate second, 
to control other clocks in sympathy with the observatory 
standard. A Bain's pendulum was procured from 
Messrs. Jas. Ritchie & Son of Edinburgh, and applied to 
the turret clock of the college, which was thus controlled 
to show Greenwich mean time, and at least one other 
clock in Aberdeen was afterwards similarly controlled. 


Gill tells us that after these services had been reduced 
to a matter of simple routine, Professor Thomson bought 
a 3J in. telescope, 4 ft. focus, by Dallmeyer, equatoreally 
mounted, and they placed it under the other dome, and 
made attempts to measure double stars, etc. The object- 
glass was exceedingly good, but the mounting too feeble, 
the clockwork and slow motions too unsatisfactory to 
allow of accurate work. 

It will be a matter for surprise to many astronomers 
to learn that, even now, a pilgrimage may be made to 
this scene of Gill's first efforts in astronomical observ- 
ing, where the very same instruments, as described by 
him in his book fifty years later, are standing and in use 
exactly as he left them. The writer was surprised to 
find them when at Aberdeen in July 1915. Mr. Anderson, 
Librarian, and Mr. Clark, who uses the instruments, 
showed them, mounted in the observatory, as described 
by Gill. The transit instrument bears the name, 
" Thomas Jones, of Charing Cross, London." The 
sidereal clock is by " Sangster & Dunningham, 1 Aberdeen." 
The mean solar time clock bears on its dial the inscrip- 
tion, " D. Gill & Son, Aberdeen, watchmakers to the 
Queen." It has a mercurial pendulum with a small 
shelf on the bob for the adjustment of weights on the 
shelf. It carries the electric contacts made by Gill, 
which are still used for controlling a clock on the main 
tower of the college and for driving and controlling 
a Ritchie clock in the quadrangle. Mr. Clark said that 
it used to control a third clock a mile away, in Marischal 
College, but does so no longer. 

The equatoreally mounted telescope of 3-4 inch object 
glass bears the name "A. Ross, London," not " Dall- 
meyer," as Gill says. 2 

Looking around, there was found in this room a large 
card with a list of double stars with particulars in tabular 

1 Who succeeded at Aberdeen to the business of David Gill & 
a It appears that Dallmeyer was at one time A. Ross' manager. 


form, in the handwriting of David Thomson, just as they 
left it half a century ago. 

Gill's astronomical appetite being whetted by use 
of these instruments, he proceeded soon to build an 
observatory of his own, as will be told later. 


IN TRADE (1863-72) 

His pleasures Astronomy Art Rifle shooting Lieutenant 
D. Gill Harvey Hall Letters to Australia. 

THE period of Gill's life from 1863 to 1872 was primarily 
taken up with the trade to which his father wished him 
to devote the whole of his life. No doubt young David 
had the usual experiences of a merchant, touting for 
orders, cutting out competitors, reprimanding dilatory 
dealers, travelling through Scotland to extend his busi- 
ness, hunting up bad debts and cutting losses. 

No one who knew the David Gill of later years, the 
zealous and renowned astronomer, can believe that he 
could ever have enjoyed this commercial drudgery. He 
did not. He hated it. But his judgment told him it was 
a duty, so he resolved to make a success of it by patient 
and dogged perseverance and he did so. And to this 
extent these years of trade were not altogether lost years. 
He discovered, in fact, in himself the " perfervidum in- 
genium Scotorum " which served him so well in astronomy. 
He even confessed in later days that this business training 
enabled him to deal easily with much correspondence 
of a kind which is often a cause of worry to many an 
astronomer. 1 

But it must not be supposed that when he shut the 
office door he was unable to turn to a happier existence. 
He thoroughly enjoyed life. He had a happy home 
in his family circle. He loved music, and soon acquired 

1 See p. 233. 

1863-72] RECREATIONS 29 

a taste for other arts. He had cheerful companions with 
whom he could roam the country round, at the seaside 
or in the lovely valleys of the Dee or Don, even to Ballater 
and Braemar. He enjoyed female society. A picnic or 
a ball was always a joy to him. Those who joined him in 
rifle shooting were as full of fun and zeal as he was. He 
could explore the quarries for geological specimens, and 
in the evenings could take his chosen friends into his 
laboratory to experiment in chemistry, mineralogy and 
electricity. But later on, above all these things if his 
day had been worried, perhaps, by the hopelessness of 
collecting some bad debt he could always cross the street 
from his father's house into his temple in the garden when 
he had established there his observatory and a beautiful 
telescope, as will be related in the next chapter. He 
loved this telescope as he might a human being, for 
the sympathy and comfort that it seemed to bring to 

These last words have not been written at random or 
by guessing, but are a summary of what has been told 
by those who knew him in those years. 

The irresistible and compelling attraction of astronomy 
for the mind of David Gill began only when he discovered 
the delight of " observing " and of getting information 
at first hand from the stars themselves, instead of from 
books, and when he realized the potentialities of his own 
keen eyesight and delicate touch in handling instruments. 
Previous to that date his love for the stars arose largely 
from the emotional and aesthetic side of his character; 
and this point of view remained with him always. When 
to wonder, admiration and awe in contemplation of the 
heavens there is added a personal contact with the objects 
of admiration, through information due to his own clear- 
ness of vision and sureness in manipulation, it is then only 
that the astronomer knows how immeasurably more real 
is this knowledge of his than all the dicta of the mere 
encyclopaedist. The personal affection thus created in 


the mind of a real astronomer for the planets and 
double stars and nebulae and comets which he observes 
extends also to the instruments he has made his 

But Gill had also artistic tastes. John Brodie, R.S.A., 
the sculptor, was at this time one of his intimate friends, 
and it was through the Brodies that he came to know 
that remarkable painter, John Phillip, who was a native 
of Aberdeen, in whose studio he spent very happy hours 
listening to the talk of all the distinguished Scottish 
artists, and acquired that love of colour which never 
ceased to give him joy. His friendships with Sir George 
Reid and Colin Hunter brought him later into touch with 
Millais, Watts and Joseph Israels, and their work, in the 
years 1876-9. 

Up to the age of twenty he was trying to find his own 
real bent. His family had no scientific leanings, his father 
had no scientific books in his library. Yet, from the 
moment he came under the influence of Dr. Lindsay at 
Dollar, and of Clerk Maxwell and David Thomson at 
Aberdeen, he knew that it was to science that he must 
look for permanent interest. But whether the great truths 
he sought were to come from chemistry, mineralogy, heat, 
light, electricity, geology, astronomy, or even mathe- 
matics, he could not at first tell. He would have made 
his mark in any one of the branches of exact science. 
But he spent himself during the early years in search of 
the sacred fire, and then, as later, lighter pleasures were 
taken earnestly, and music and even dancing with energy. 
His best friends at that time did not know in what 
direction his love for exactness and truth would lead 
him. His brother Jem alone suspected astronomy, Dr. 
Rennett electricity, Harvey Hall rifle shooting, his young 
friend Gerald Baker thought it was geology, many 
others chemistry, while the Clerkenwell people were most 
mistaken in saying it was watchmaking. 

It was not until, in 1863, ne use( i ms hands and eyes 


for making astronomical observations, and reducing them, 
that he knew the direction in which he might hope to 
find true satisfaction. He was no theorist, but he had 
an intensely mathematical and exact mind, with great 
perseverance (as every astronomer who knew him per- 
ceived). It may be well to insert here the considered 
opinion of one of the greatest of those who survive him. 
Dr. Backhand, head of the Imperial Observatory of 
Pulkowa, in Russia, has put in writing his own opinion, 
which is generally endorsed. 

He was not a trained mathematician in the strict 
signification of the word, his career had given him no 
leisure to cultivate this science especially; but he pos- 
sessed deep mathematical intuition, which helped him 
to overcome easily mathematical difficulties appearing in 
his astronomical works. 

If he had chosen mathematics as his special object, 
he would certainly have ranked among the mathemati- 
cians even as high as he did as astronomer among the 

The fact must now be recalled that at this period 
(1863 onwards) he was full of business, and shooting 
became a great enjoyment, when he found that in 
this direction he might hope to reach the top of the 

As his brother Jem has told us, rifle-shooting was 
perhaps his greatest distraction from business at one 
time. He was a most energetic volunteer, and joined 
before the Clerkenwell days. Among the few papers 
preserved by him relating to these old days, we find his 
commission as lieutenant in the first Aberdeenshire Rifle 
Volunteer Corps (now the 4th Gordons) granted by the 
vice-lieutenant of the county, Sir Alexander Bannerman 
of Elswick, on March 21, 1868. He retired October 
13, 1872. 

He soon found that he might hope to become a first- 
rate shot, and the shooting and drilling gave him good 


exercise and genial companionship, even before his skill 
had brought him into contact with the small-bore crack 
shots of the county, among whom were included the 
late Earl of Aberdeen, and that almost perfect man, 
the Hon. James H. Gordon (both elder brothers of the 
present Marquis of Aberdeen). 

An authentic account of his ability in this field is given 
in a note written by his most intimate and life-long 
friend, Mr. Harvey Hall, a well-known advocate in 

He was a fine long-range rifle shot, using a match rifle, 
was a member of a long-range rifle club, which prac- 
tised at a range at Dyce, near Aberdeen. In the year 
1869 he qualified for the Scottish Eight, to represent 
Scotland in the Elcho Shield Competition, but was pre- 
vented engaging in the competition. His appointment 
as H.M. Astronomer at the Cape, where he went in 1879, 
prevented him from following what would have been a 
distinguished career as a rifle shot. 

He was an excellent game shot, and during the few 
months before his death engaged in grouse-shooting, 
deer-stalking and pheasant-shooting. 

The delight taken by Gill in the accurate performance 
of his gun and rifle lasted thoughout his life, both in 
South Africa and at home. In his later years he was 
always a welcome guest on the moors and deer forests 
of Scotland, and the English coverts. 

A propos of shooting, after his return from the Cape 
to live in London he was sometimes an honoured guest at 
the Banff Club. On one of these occasions when he was 
to reply for the guests, the chairman, Mr. Farquharson, 
M.P., said 

I am told that Sir David Gill is quite an expert on 
shooting stars. All I can say is that if you saw him on 
my moor in Scotland, behind the butts in a driving wind, 
you would say he is an expert on shooting grouse. 

Of all his brothers, Pat, the next to him in age, had the 

1863-72] RIFLE-SHOOTING 33 

most respect for his scientific tastes, but it was the 
Benjamin of the family, Jemmie, whose common 
interest with him was their love of sport and rifle- 

When Jem had gone to Australia in 1867, David seldom 
bored his brother with astronomy, but wrote to him all 
the news about rifle practice and " wapinschaws " and 
the progress of their volunteer corps, as well as about 
balls and picnics; and the letters that he then wrote 
serve quite well to show this side of his character. 



November 25, 1867. 

MY DEAR JEMMIE, I have to answer your letter from 
Sydney, and give you such news as I think will interest 
you. Pat will, of course, show you my letters and others 
with the home news, so here goes for matters sporting 
and otherwise. 

Pat can give you a letter and papers with details 
of the Wapinschaw, and the triumphant success of this 

As to Wimbledon, I couldn't go there as, owing to 
Papa's illness, the family had migrated to Ballater, and 
left me here to manage letters alone. 

Scotland, you will see, won the Enfield trophy, the 
Irish Trophy, and only lost the Elcho Shield by one 

That brute McCrinick of Ayr made an awful mess of 
it, though he made the top score in getting in. Had he 
shot anything like decently, we should have won in a 
canter. Innes from Banff should have had the Queen's 
Prize too, but this would have been almost too much 
happiness. He scored a centre at 800 yards, which was 
marked a miss. Had he got this centre he would have 
been first, but the officer in charge would not allow an 
orderly to be sent up. 

None of the Aberdeen men did much good. Chalmers 
got 5 in the Prince of Wales competition, and some of the 
others had trifles. 


Wilken managed to nail the Dudley prize, five shots 
any rifle at 500 seven shots at 800 one prize of 50, 
open to members of the Eights, and winners of 20. 
His score was 44444 at 500 ; 3344444 at 800. He was 
in the last squad, and when all the others had done he 
had five shots to fire and must make five bulls to win 
and did it. He had also an Albert prize of 10 at 500 
yards, and I think a running prize. 

I went to Montrose in the hope of getting Ross cup. 
I think I could easily have won it if I could have shot 
for it, but you know I have given up the Enfield, and the 
competition was open only to the first three of any com- 
petition. My only chance therefore was the 200 yds. 
any rifle 5 shots. I got a confounded outer the first 
round, then three bulls no use there were three scores 
of 20. I was awfully disgusted. So I went and asked 
to be allowed to compete for the Long range, open only 
to Angus and the Mearns. I was allowed to shoot for 
practice, and made the top score, five shots at 800, 17; 
at 900, 18 ; at 1000, 17 = 52. One point better than my 
Aberdeen score. I got glory but no money. 

At Kelso, Guthrie was anxious for a shot, so he had a 
party formed when I arrived and we went to the range. 
We had a competition, 15 shots at 500. I astonished the 
Kelso shooting world with the following score 

444444444444434 = 59 

out of a possible 60. 

Ned Sumner shot well, Pat knows him, he made 

I have not done any other shooting, except with 
Murray Lauder. At the second class target with second 
class bull's eye and centre I scored 45 in 15 rounds at 
1000 yards. 

The battalion challenge cup was shot for when I was 
in the North. Marr won it with a score of 49 you made 
52. Peter Cowe told me of a feat by Bill his brother. 
Tell Pat of it. He saw some geese (Canada) in a pond. 
He took his breech loader and muzzle loader. Killed one 
with each of his four barrels, and slipped a cartridge into 
the breech loader and killed a fifth. . . . 

With love ever dear Jemmie. 

Ever your affect, brother, DAV. GILL, Jr. 

i86 3 -72] BECOMES LIEUT., ist A.R.V. 35 



June 1 8, 1868. 

MY DEAR PAT, A few lines to tell you what is going 
on. Before going to news let me tell you that now that 
A. Stenhouse has gone out you are in no difficulty. Be 
honest, but look after yourself. Uncle John is too easy, 
Uncle Andrew says, in these matters, and therefore I say 
look out. You will require on receipt of this to be send- 
ing off the interest on money I raised for you to meet the 
payment in December, as they look for pay* punctually 
on the 20th Dec. 

As to what is doing here. 

I think I told you that I have got a commission 
Lieut, of No. 5 Company. That is two nights a week drill 
at 8.15. Then I have the Bugle Squad to drill and teach 
to shoot, that is four nights a week, viz. 7.30 at Nigg on 
two nights, and 7.30 on old town tacks before parade on 
other two nights. Add to this a turn at astronomy at 
night, and an occasional shot in the morning, and you 
account pretty well for my spare time. We are going 
to have a great Wapinschaw and review on 3oth June 
and ist and 2nd July. We have got 180 worth of extra 
prizes. I have sent programmes to Jemmie, who will 
show them to you. I will write to him with the result of 
the shooting and full particulars. 


We had a glorious picnic to Inver, above Balmoral. 
We had rail to Ballater and hired to Inver. We encamped 
on a jolly grass plot beside the river and opened out our 
dinner and champagne. We afterwards had a game at 
Aunt Sally, and drove back to Ballater. On our way we 
were overtaken by the Queen driving in an open carriage 
and pair. She passed us. About 300 or 400 yards 
further on we were overtaken by two of the Princesses 
and a groom, riding. They passed us and rode in front 
of us three or four miles. The day was lovely and this 
little event crowned the whole a great success. 

1 Owing to the failing health of his father, David, from about 
now onwards, not only managed the business, but to a great 
extent acted as counsellor and father to the family. 


We have the Highland Agricultural Society's show in 
the end of July. I expect Peter Co we north to it. 

To-morrow we have a bazaar here in aid of the Bible 
Readers Society, I expect there will be a very full 

Harvey Hall won the Cup of the Rifle Club yesterday. 
It was presented by the Earl of Aberdeen to be held three 
times when it becomes the property of the winner. Harvey 
yesterday got it by a shave, and having won it twice 
before keeps it. Its value is 30. Be it understood 
I am not a member of the Club x not being a billiard 
playing and fashionable man, consequently I did not 
shoot. I think I could have got into the Scotch eight 
this year if I could have got away to Irvine, but I could 
not manage that. Scotland you will see lost the Enfield 
match this year. Walker of Portlethen was much to 
blame for it. He missed 5 shots at 500 yards, but Scot- 
land had 12 shots to fire and only 18 points to make to 
win. The beggars of the last squad only made 3 outers 
in the 12 shots. Send this letter to Jem. 

With love ever dear Pat. 

Your affect, brother, DAVID GILL, Jr. 

These are samples of many letters written by David 
to his brothers in Australia during a period when business 
claimed him by day, and he had discovered a new and 
absorbing interest at night in the possession of a fine 
telescope. Then, as always, in correspondence or con- 
versation, he chose subjects in which his friends were 
interested, never introducing his own personal affairs 
except when assured of a desire on the part of his friends 
to listen. 

It is interesting to note that it was not till 1863 that 
he first experienced the joy of real observing with a 
transit instrument, nor till 1867 with a fine telescope of 
his own. This line of work immediately became such a 
source of happiness and satisfaction to him that from 
now onwards astronomy could claim him as her own. 

1 The Aberdeen Rifle Club, a small social club, with rooms in 



He owns a telescope, and photographs the moon Dr. Huggins 
Lord Lindsay Isobel Black Canon Low Lady Gill's 
memories The marriage. 

PROBABLY the most important event, next to his marriage, 
in the whole of David Gill's life was the erection of a 
small observatory in his father's garden. His observa- 
tions made at King's College had delighted him more 
than any of the other scientific work he had attempted; 
but it was not until he acquired a perfectly mounted 
telescope of admirable definition, that he was able to 
gauge his own powers in the separation of close double 
stars, in catching details of planetary, lunar and nebular 
markings and in micrometrical measurements. Then he 
began to know, and soon became convinced, that there 
was no field of work in which he could reap so rich a 
harvest for science, with his fine eyesight and delicate 
touch, as in astronomical measurement; and that this 
work alone would satisfy the craving of his nature, if he 
could devote all his powers to following in the steps of 
Bradley and Bessel, of the Herschels and Struves. 

Dissatisfied with the mounting of Professor Thomson's 
small equatoreal, he looked out for the opportunity to 
buy one with which he could make good micrometrical 
observations of double stars. He says in his History, etc. 

An advertisement appeared in the Astronomical Register, 
in which the Rev. Henry Cooper Key, of Stretton Rectory, 
Hereford, offered for sale a telescope with a silver-on- 
glass speculum of twelve inches aperture and ten feet 



focus. This he sent to me for trial on a rough wooden 
stand. I found it gave admirable definition, and I 
purchased it. 

On searching the columns of the Astronomical Register 
it appears that the last date when the advertisement 
appeared was December 1866. It must have been at 
that date, or soon after, that Gill purchased it. Prob- 
ably the greater part of the year 1867 would be taken 
up in mounting it equatoreally and in erecting an ob- 
servatory for it in the little garden opposite his father's 
house in Skene Terrace. There was a great deal to be 
done and he has described how he did it. The principal 
castings were made, turned and fitted according to his 
own working drawings by a firm of shipbuilders in Aber- 
deen. The declination circle, as also the driving circle 
with its tangent screw and slow motion in R.A., were made 
for him by Messrs. T. Cooke & Sons of York. He himself 
made the driving clock with his own hands, and it gave 
him entire satisfaction. 1 

He used this telescope a great deal for the measurement 
of double stars, and convinced himself that he might thus 
hope to measure the difference of parallax 2 of two stars 
apparently close together, if one of them happened to 
be comparatively near to the Solar System. This was 
considered almost the most difficult feat in astronomical 
observation. Accordingly he ordered a suitable micro- 
meter from Steinheil of Munich, and about 1871 he was 
on the point of attacking the measurement of stellar 
distances, an operation requiring such perfection of instru- 
ment and such skill in observing as to have frightened 
away nearly every astronomer at that time who thought 
of attempting it. 

1 Eventually this telescope, after purchase by Lord Lindsay, 
has found a resting place in the Calton Hill Observatory, Edin- 

2 Parallax is an angle which can be measured, and from which 
we can determine the distance of the object observed. (See 
footnote on parallax, p. 61.) 

[To face page 38. 



There is little doubt that he might have succeeded; 
but a visit from Lord Lindsay l changed his whole life 
at that period, and put off for many years his attempts 
to measure the distances of the fixed stars. 

Concerning this preparation for measuring the dis- 
tances of fixed stars, Professor Kapteyn of Groningen, 
in Holland, has written 

It seems almost a pity that the visit from Lord Lindsay 
did not come a couple of years later. It might have given 
us the spectacle unique in the annals of science of a 
business man measuring star-parallaxes in his leisure 

Dr. Roberts of Lovedale, South Africa, a zealous 
astronomer, who was on intimate terms with Gill, tells 
us 2 

It has been my hap to have met one who assisted in 
the setting up of this now historic instrument, and the 
stories told of the impetuousness and inventiveness of 
the young astronomer are instructive as revealing how 
little folk like Gill change with the changing years. As I 
heard my friend relate anecdotes of the setting up of 
the twelve-inch reflector in the garden in Skene Terrace 
methought he was telling me the story of the erection 
of the McClean telescope, thirty years later in time. 

Another use to which he put his telescope at an early 
date was photographing the moon's surface at a time when 
this art was in its infancy, and gelatine dry plates were 
unknown. In this attempt he was very successful. 
On May 18, 1869, he was able to take an exceptionally 
good photograph of the moon. A transparency positive 
from this was sent to Dr. Huggins, who was then rising 
into prominence as one of the few pioneers in spectro- 
scopic astronomical discovery. Dr. Huggins appreciated 

1 In 1880 Lord Lindsay became the twenty-sixth Earl of 
Crawford ; and by this name he was most generally known. 

2 Transactions Royal Society of S. Africa, vol. v. part 3. 


this effort and, until his death, always had this photograph 
in his dining-room window at Tulse Hill. 

In the winter 1870-1 JLord Lindsay saw this photo- 
graph, noticed its sharp' definition and its consequent 
scientific value. 1 A question regarding it brought the 
information that it was taken by a young Aberdeen watch- 
maker interested in astronomy, and with an instrument 
practically of his own construction. So Lord Lindsay 
obtained an introduction, and the acquaintance thus 
begun soon ripened into a close and abiding friendship. 

Gill's absolute capture by astronomy was completed 
during the six years from 1866 to 1872, while he was still 
bound to his trade in 78 Union Street, while he was 
still working as a volunteer, while he was still acting 
in loco parentis to his young brothers in Australia, and 
to his sister Maggie. In 1867 he became a member of 
the Royal Astronomical Society. He occasionally corre- 
sponded with prominent astronomers, and he had much 
intercourse with Lord Lindsay, helping him in his plans 
for building an observatory. 

There are still some most important events to be 
recorded that occurred before the turning point of his 
life arrived in 1872. 

His father's health and mental powers were beginning 
to fail, and in 1869 he handed over to his son David the 
sole control of the business which had been in the family 
nearly a hundred years. This event did not add to the 
responsibilities which had been his, in fact, for some 
years. But it increased his private means, and enabled 
him to take the most important step of his life, concerning 
the beginnings of which a few words must now be said. 

David Gill had a cousin, Dr. John Ruxton, in the parish 
of Foveran, who incidentally and unconsciously, at this 
period, became the instrument for conferring upon him 

1 This lunar photograph, now historical, came into the pos- 
session of the Royal Astronomical Society of London in December 


the greatest boon he was ever granted, and a happiness 
which shone from him ever after, and filled to the brim 
that strong part of him apart from intellect, his affections 
and bright outlook upon the world, his humour, his 
sympathies and devoted helpfulness. 

For, on a certain Sunday morning in August 1865, 
when the two were on their way to Foveran Church, a 
walk of three miles, Dr. Ruxton brought him to call 
at a farm house within a stone's throw of the church, 
the farm called Linhead, of Mr. John Black. And there 
he met, for the first time, Mr. Black's second daughter, 
sixteen years old, Isobel (Bella), his future wife, and they 
walked together to church. 

John Black was the last male representative, in that 
quarter, of a family long favourably known, especially 
in the Formartin and Buchan districts. Mr. Black's 
grandfather Thomas, of Wadridgemuir (b. 1725; d. 
1801), had five sons, of whom Alexander (b. 1767) 
carried on the farm at Linhead, Foveran, for many 
years previous to his death. His son, John (b. 1807), 
continued the occupation of that farm. In 1837 ne 
married Elizabeth, daughter of Alexander Garden, of 
Millfield, and had three daughters Anne, Isobel and 
Bessie. The second of these became the wife of David 

Lady Gill's mother was a real farmer's wife with a 
very practical turn of mind, a woman, too, of fine feeling, 
while he himself took a wider outlook on the world. 
From an obituary notice we learn 

His company was much appreciated in social circles, 
where his genial humour and pawky sayings made him 
a great favourite. He was thoughtful of, and kind to, 
his poorer neighbours. 

In his old age he retired to 18 Bon Accord Terrace, 
Aberdeen, and died there on January 12, 1885, at the 
age of seventy-seven. He was buried in the family 
burying ground at Foveran. 


On the occasion of this meeting David was twenty-two 
years old, and Bella was only sixteen. He saw in her a 
very pretty girl with a miad to match, full of the fun and 
cheeriness that never deserted her. David's aunt, Mrs. 
Mitchell, says that she was very attractive with her bright, 
intellectual conversation, and that he was desperately 
in love with her from the first; and adds that, while 
Bella was naturally bright and clever, her mind had been 
formed and educated by one of the best of those parish 
schoolmasters of Scotland before Scottish education 
had been ruined by the new School Boards who were 
able to detect and foster the natural qualities of their 
pupils. So Isobel Black had come under the good in- 
fluence of James Anderson, parish schoolmaster of 
Foveran, and was in many ways the superior of most 
girls of her age. 

As to what were her first impressions of him at that 
meeting; let her speak. 

He was then a fine young fellow of medium height, 
slight, with a supple boyish figure, carelessly dressed, 
quick of movement, with dark brown hair much dis- 
hevelled, from a habit which never left him, of constantly 
passing his fingers through it, and a twist of humour 
hovered about the mouth and also twinkled in the eyes. 
In the eyes, however, there was more than humour. 
There was a compelling power, an unconscious strength 
which held one, and which showed that, although un- 
conscious of it, he had already found himself. In fact, 
it may be said that at twenty-two he was as old for his 
age as he was young at seventy. He changed so little 
in essentials not at all the eagerness, the honest frank- 
ness, the vitality, the quickness to perceive and to 
respond, the humour, the humanity, the joyousness were 
all there when we first met and walked together to 
church, and when he said, " Isn't this the most glorious 
summer morning you ever saw? " just as they were at 
the close of his seventieth birthday, when he said to me, 
" The very happiest birthday of a very happy life." 
His voice, too, never altered. Although probably to many 
ears his voice was not a melodious one, being loudly 

1865-72] HIS ENGAGEMENT 43 

pitched with a very pronounced Scottish accent all Ms 
life, yet I have no hesitation in saying, it was the com- 
pelling quality of his voice, with its extraordinary variety 
of tone, which expressed his individuality in a way that 
made the listener, without knowing why, listen to him and 
remember what he said. There seemed to be no emotion 
that it could not express, and it is " The sound of a voice 
that is still " which haunts my memory every hour. 

These two loved each other the moment they met, but 
they could not impress this fact upon their elders, who 
would not take their assurances seriously. John Black 
was charmed with the young man. His wife thought 
him delightful but altogether too impetuous and im- 
pulsive. Really, the parents were very sensible, though 
the young people could not see it at the time. Thus 
they had few opportunities of meeting, for the relation- 
ship between the sexes, especially in the far north, was 
hardly so free as now. But the lovers wrote many letters, 
not love-letters so far as the words indicated, but long, 
serious, quaint discussions on all sorts of subjects, interest- 
ing to both, about which one of them confessed afterwards 
that she knew nothing at all. But she now says of 

How earnest and sincere they were ! The beginning 
of the soul's life to me. And to-day I can say that every 
ideal he then expressed he proved to be real, and every 
promise he made he nobly redeemed. He never told a 
lie even to himself. 

How these letters used to amuse us in after days ! 
and apt quotations from them formed a joke which never 
palled on either of us. 

This very fact used to be to their friends one of the 
charms of being in their company. So, long after- 
wards, Earl Grey wrote to Lady Gill about his vivid 
recollections of 

the most delightful relationship between husband and 
wife that I have ever looked upon namely, that which 
existed between you two. I simply used to love seeing 


you two together, and to hear the mutual delightfully 
affectionate banter and chaff which made us all chuckle 

When young David declared to his father his resolution 
to marry there was a stormy scene between these two 
strong-willed men, because of his youth. 1 When it w r as 
over he sought the companionship of an old college chum. 
This was Mr. W. L. Low, now Canon Low, of Largs, who 
was then at Kincardine O'Neil, on Deeside. To him he 
unburdened himself, and Canon Low says that this was 
the only occasion on which he ever saw young David 
lose command of hand and eye through the violence of 
his anger. The incident is told in the course of a note 
reminiscent of those days in which Canon Low says 

I became acquainted with the family of which Sir 
David Gill was the eldest son about 1858, at which 
period I was a student at the University of Aberdeen. 
At that time the younger sons were being educated at 
the Parsonage, Monymusk, by the Rev. William Walker, 
on whom his University afterwards conferred the degree 
of LL.D., and his Church the office of Dean of the Diocese 
of Aberdeen. I spent the College vacations at the same 
delightful place, reading hard under the stimulus and 
inspiration of Mr. Walker. It was thus that I came 
ultimately to know the whole family of the Gills, and to 
be a guest now and then in their hospitable house in 

When I was a young clergyman at Kincardine O'Neil 
(1863-70) young David came now and then in the 
summer-time to spend a week-end with me. I think we 
both enjoyed these week-ends I know I did. We both 
had a great liking and admiration for Professor David 
Thomson, and for the Natural Philosophy of which he 
was Professor, and seldom met without one or other of 
us having some new story to tell of " Davie " and his 
ways of dealing with unstudious students. 

One attraction for David Gill which Kincardine O'Neil 
possessed was a rifle-range; and when he came for a 

1 David's father was 49 years old when he married. 

1865-72] HIS MARRIAGE 45 

week-end he brought his rifle. It was the muzzle- 
loading Enfield rifle of those days; but we both were 
capable of hitting a target with it, and did so often on 
the Saturday afternoon. 

One of these afternoons has frequently come back to 
my memory, because of the contrast it brought to the 
placid and happy David Gill at all other times known 
to me. He was like a Vesuvius in eruption, in fact, if 
possible, still more vehemently and threateningly excited, 
and the usual equable sequence of his thoughts was 
equally disturbed. After some time of excited utterance 
the fons et origo mali became clear. Young David had, 
like other young men, fallen in love with a bright young 
personality that looked at him through a pair of bright 
eyes matched delightfully with a rich complexion 
and old David had apparently forgotten his own youth 
and failed to approve. Young David was full of wrath 
and expressed it forcibly. He thought his father had 
claimed the right to marry his own wife, and ought to 
allow the same right to his son. I sympathized with 
young David; and as time went on no one rejoiced more 
than I did as the constancy of his affection was mani- 
fested, and its discernment vindicated by the object of it 
proving through a long married life an ideal wife. 

But that afternoon David Gill's mind was in a state of 
storm. After luncheon we went to the shooting-range, 
and he was as keen as ever on making bull's eyes. But 
his attention was always flying off to his trouble; and 
when loading for the fourth time his preoccupation with 
it caused him to put the bullet in before the powder, and 
the shooting came to an end for the day. 

The two lovers both came to see that the waiting time 
had been a blessing in disguise. Moreover, it was neces- 
sary from a material point of view, for at the date, 1865, 
when they first met, David had only lately become his 
father's junior partner in the business, with a small 
enough income. 

The year after his father's retirement (when young 
David had become head of the firm), on July 7, 1870, 
shortly before his mother's death, David Gill married 
Isobel Black from her father's farm at Linhead, and 


they started on their honeymoon for Pitlochrie, in 

Thus began that happy married life. Their first house 
was in Aberdeen, two or three hundred yards away from 
his father's house in Skene Terrace and from his observa- 
tory in the garden. His widow's words must tell the 

Twenty-six North Silver Street was a comfortable but 
rather ugly little house, and the furniture, which I 
thought beautiful and David did not think about at 
all, atrocious. But to us both a very heaven of happiness 
lay between its four walls, as it always did between every 
four walls which held us two to the end of his life. 

In the first years of our married life I quickly realized 
what I had had more than a glimmering of before, the 
intensity of David's love of Astronomy, and it became 
fully borne in upon me that my young husband's life 
could never be accomplished while he remained in busi- 
ness. I can see now the radiant look on his face, and the 
exultation in his voice after a night spent with his tele- 
scope. Often when this had been specially apparent, I 
used to pray so earnestly that a door might be opened 
for him to pass into the land of his desire although it 
seemed then as if only a miracle could bring it to pass. 
In 1872 the miracle happened, and he became Director 
of Lord Lindsay's Observatory at Dun Echt. The door 
was opened and he entered into his Canaan. 

David's mother died in December 1870. Her loss 
increased the value of his married life to him. David and 
Isobel Gill never had any children, but their devoted 
affection, sympathy and help, each for the other, in sick- 
ness or health, as well as their fun and badinage, became 
an object lesson to all who knew them intimately. 

David's young wife never, at any time of her life, 
attempted to become an astronomer; and for this he 
was thankful. A lady once was heard, on being intro- 
duced to him, to say, " And how nice it must be to be 
helped by your wife. I suppose she knows all about 

1865-72] HIS YOUNG WIFE 47 

astronomy? " To which he was heard to reply, " Not 
a word, thank God ! " But in times of perplexity she 
knew what he required, and in times of triumph she 
gloried in his success. In every moment of his relaxa- 
tion, and in days of absence from home, to the very end, 
his intimate friends could see that his every thought was 
with her. 



LORD LINDSAY'S interest in the astronomical work of 
Gill the watchmaker soon developed into deep appre- 
ciation. Young Lord Lindsay, even at the age of twenty- 
four years, was a very remarkable as well as a very able 
man, constantly experimenting upon life's experiences, 
yet always critical and self-reliant. Conscious of the 
power he possessed, due to his qualities as much as to his 
wealth, he was determined to use it as seemed to him 
best. Having decided upon a course of action, nothing 
could stop him. 1 

In the 'sixties of last century he established a laboratory 
in Greek Street, Soho, at great expense; and this was 
the first direction in which he started for the love of 
science. This was before the days of dynamos, and Lord 
Lindsay built up, on the roof, the most powerful electric 
battery in the world at that time, and fitted in the 
laboratory the largest electro-magnet. A good many 
years later he devoted both wealth and influence very 
successfully to developing the new profession of electric 

It is worthy of note that one of Lord Lindsay's objects 
in making his great electro-magnet was his expectation 
that some physiological action might be experienced by 
placing the human head in a strong magnetic field. 
He failed, but after many years the late Professor 

1 Afterwards, Lord Lindsay was elected a Fellow of the Royal 
Society, and became President of the Royal Astronomical Society. 



Sylvanus Thomson, F.R.S., demonstrated the truth of 
his surmise. 1 

While the laboratory in Greek Street was in active 
operation Lord Lindsay arrived at a very sound judg- 
ment about astronomy. As Sir William Huggins has 
told us, after the discovery of Neptune had put the final 
seal upon the universality and completeness of the law 
of gravitation in the solar system, the problems of 
planetary motions seemed to be ended except for the 
mathematician. At the time referred to (about 1870) 
comparatively few young men of great ability saw that 
there was much to be gained for science by the devotion 
of a life's work to astronomy. Lord Lindsay's studies, 
and his appreciation of Huggins's spectroscopic work, 
led him to think differently. His intimacy with the 
watchmaker astronomer confirmed his opinion, and he 
conceived the idea of inducing his father to found upon 
their estate at Dun Echt, thirteen miles from Aberdeen, 
the greatest private observatory in the world. Lord 
Lindsay contemplated not only a large telescope, but an 
observatory to approach or equal Greenwich in the 
accuracy of fundamental astronomy of position. 

It appears from correspondence still existing that, long 
before the time when their forces were combined in any 
agreement, Lord Lindsay and Mr. Gill were in close 
contact, the younger and more influential man con- 
sulting the older one in regard to best lines of work, 
and the best instruments to lay down, in a large private 

It is much to the credit of Lord Lindsay, who was 
only twenty-four years of age when he made Mr. Gill's 
acquaintance (his senior by four years), that he quickly 
learnt to regard him as the most capable person he knew, 
if his interest could be secured, to organize and help to 
use his private observatory. 

1 Roy. Soc. Proc. B., vol. Ixxxii, p. 396, and Journal of the 
Rontgen Society No. 32, vol. viii. 


All through life it must have been a great satisfaction 
to the future Earl of Crawford to know how much 
astronomy is, and always will be, indebted to him for 
his sound judgment at that time. 

In December 1871, one evening while Mr. and Mrs. 
Gill were sitting together at home in North Silver 
Street, the curate who acted as chaplain at Dun Echt 
called, and, holding out a letter, said that Lord 
Crawford had asked him to deliver it. Gill laid it on 
the table and conversed with the chaplain till he left. 
Then he opened the letter. He read it, and, with con- 
trolled countenance, handed it to his wife. She read, 
and exclaimed, " How glorious ! " It announced Lord 
Crawford's intention to build an observatory for his son, 
and invited Gill to become its first director. 

It must have been a moment of combined gratification 
and perplexity. 1 Here was he, a young man, in control 
of a prosperous business ensuring him and his wife ample 
means for life. Here was a wife whom he loved, and 
who had so lately given herself to share his fortunes. 
Here was a father who would look upon his desertion of 
a thriving business and an assured future as a betrayal 
of his inheritance, and long-headed relations who would 
condemn him as a flighty visionary who could drop the 
substance for the shadow, and accept a small allowance 
in exchange for a small fortune. 

On the other hand, here was an opening to the land of 
his day-dreams, an opportunity to show his worth in the 
only line of work that could give him complete satisfac- 
tion. Here was the means offered him to make a start 
in the footsteps of men standing foremost in his 
regard, whose names are held in perpetual veneration 
perhaps even to have his name inscribed alongside of 

To a man like Gill, who was humble, unselfish and 

1 In this connexion, read his letter to Mr. Bryan Cookson at 
pp. 232, 233. 


strict in his sense of duty, yet full of zeal and confident of 
his skill in certain directions, an immediate decision 
might well seem difficult . It all depended upon his 
wife. But in her mind there was no doubt whatever. 
This was the answer to her prayers. 

There was no longer any question about the answer to 
Lord Crawford's invitation, though there was a great 
deal of opposition on the part of the father. In the 
summer of 1872, when some instruments were on the 
spot, and while the foundations of their own future home 
were being laid in the park, the Gills migrated to Dun 
Echt, living at first in a part of the mansion house, so 
long as the family were away, and afterwards occupying 
a small farmhouse, Scotstown, two miles from the 

From this moment David Gill ceased to be the business 
man with a delight in astronomy as a hobby. He was 
now fairly launched in the astronomical world. From 
now onwards he is an astronomer first, and he has no 
business except his hobby. It is not often that an 
astronomer has the opportunity twice in a lifetime, as 
Gill had, practically to create, equip and use a magnifi- 
cent observatory in accordance with the highest ideals. 
Dun Echt Observatory, which with instruments and 
library was transferred to Blackford Hill, Edinburgh, by 
the late Earl of Crawford (our Lord Lindsay), and pre- 
sented to the nation, and the Cape Observatory as it 
now stands, are to a large extent the creations of Gill's 
genius and the most substantial memorials to himself. 
The large volumes, numbering about thirty, containing 
results of his work including Dun Echt publications, 
Annals of the Cape Observatory, Geodetic Survey of 
South Africa, and Cape meridian observations together 
with his contributions to the Royal Astronomical Society 
and to astronomical literature generally, 1 will remain for 

1 A list of these, compiled by Mr. W. H. Wesley, is appended 
to this volume. 


ever a permanent record of the skill, energy, fixed purpose 
and perseverance which carried this man through a life 
of noble endeavour. 

His talents did not lie in the mathematical fields occupied 
by Newton, Laplace, Adams, Leverrier or Newcomb; but 
the accuracy of his work recalls the memory of Bradley, 
his careful selection of types of instruments recalls W. 
Struve, his inventive genius and indomitable perseverance 
recall Tycho Brahe, and his self-expenditure for the sake 
of future generations of astronomers recalls Hipparchus. 
Whether he is to be enthroned alongside of these great 
astronomical observers of precision will be settled in the 

It must not be assumed from what has now been said 
that, at the date when Gill was appointed to Dun Echt, 
Lord Lindsay had not laid out the whole scheme of the 
work as a result of his own studies. We who knew Lord 
Lindsay in those days remember with appreciation the 
beginning he had made. He had already made up his mind 
to take part in observing the Transit of Venus from the 
Isle of Mauritius on December 9, 1874. There is abundant 
evidence that much of what was done at Dun Echt was 
based upon a careful study of W. Struve 's book describing 
the erection of the Pulkowa Observatory, and Gill showed 
a greater interest in that observatory than almost any in 
the world. The resolution to establish a prime-vertical 
transit at Dun Echt, and to use a heliometer in the 
Mauritius expedition, show, further, the influence of 
Pulkowa. Accordingly, it seemed to be interesting to 
see the copy of Struve 's book which Gill must have read, 
to ask for it at the University Library in Aberdeen, and 
perhaps to find scraps of paper with Gill's notes in it. 
To the writer's astonishment, he found they had no copy. 
Also, Gill never possessed a copy. It seems nearly 
certain that Gill used Lord Lindsay's copy ; and, if so, it 
becomes very possible that, when Gill was appointed, 
Lord Lindsay had already taken Struve as his model. 


Even if the main details had already been settled by 
Lord Lindsay, the rest of the work was one of co-opera- 
tion, though Gill alone was almost permanently on the 
spot; and the part taken in it by David Gill can be 
appreciated by the letters written by him at that time, a 
few of which are published in the next chapter. Part of 
their agreement was that any work done by either should 
be published in their joint names, and this agreement 
was loyally upheld by both parties. 


DUN ECHT (1872-4) 

Building up an Observatory Preparing for Mauritius Gill's 
first photographic reseau Pulkowa visit The Hamburg 
astronomical meeting Disastrous gale Preparations for 
Transit of Venus complete. 

" Happy is the man who has found his work ! 
Let him ask no other blessedness." 


THE making of an astronomer and director of an observa- 
tory is well told in the Dun Echt letter-book, rilled 
with Gill's correspondence from 1872 onwards, 1 and in 
the Lindsay Archives. 2 Instruments and buildings for 
the permanent observatory were in progress, and also 
portable ones for the Mauritius expedition for the Transit 
of Venus in 1874 (December 9). 

Gill's duties included design of instruments, ordering 
them, urging their completion, and superintending build- 
ing operations. A glance at the letters shows him urging 
Troughton & Simms to complete the great Transit Circle 
and the portable altazimuth; T. Cooke & Sons are 
asked to report progress with the prime- vertical transit, 
clocks, equatoreals, and buildings. Grubb has the 15-inch 
equator eal, with spectroscope, on hand; and is called on 
for all sorts of subsidiary apparatus, for Gill found in 
Howard Grubb a kindred spirit keen to advance astro- 
nomy. Merz of Munich is dealing with the 15-inch objec- 
tive prism; Repsold of Hamburg with the heliometer; 

1 Preserved at the Royal Observatory, Edinburgh, and lent 
to the writer by Professor Sampson. 

* Lent to the writer by the Earl of Crawford and Balcarres. 


1872-4] EXTENSIVE WORK 55 

Ausfeld of Gotha with the Zollner photometer; Eichens 
with the i6-inch siderostat; Dallmeyer with the 4o-ft. 
focus lens for photography; Apps with induction coils; 
Williams & Norgate or Quaritch with books. The town 
of Aberdeen sends printed forms, masons, tools and 
supplies. Chronometer makers are asked for the hire or 
purchase of fifty chronometers. Discussions arise with 
astronomers about astronomical photography and the 
best modifications of the Huggins or Secchi type of 
spectroscope; with Airy about improvements for Dun 
Echt upon the new Greenwich standard clock; with 
Auwers of Berlin and others about using the new helio- 
meter for the solar parallax by observations of Mars or 
of Juno. 

At the same time he superintends the building of his 
own dwelling-house, as well as the fixed observatories. 
It was at this time that one of Lord Crawford's men 
said about Gill : " I wadna say what he may ken aboot 
astronomy, but this I wull say, that he'd mak' a gran' 
mason." He was certainly endowed with much adapta- 
bility, and would take a turn at anything that needed 
doing, and do his best. 

Lord Lindsay was much away, in London or abroad, 
but always in touch with the " Director." The letters 
between these two men show their loyal devotion to each 
other and to their mistress, Astronomy. Lord Lindsay, 
as Chief, made every decision himself, and Gill was punc- 
tilious in submitting every matter to his Chief before 

On February i, 1872, Lord Lindsay, in Rome, tells 
Gill all about Secchi's object-glass prism. On July 
15, 1872, in Munich, he says he has ordered such a prism 
from Merz, and adds 

I have very nearly settled to take a house at Heidelberg 
next year from March to June, as I want to work up some 
German and mathematics. . . . 

I went to the observatory here yesterday to see 


Lament, 1 and was talking away in French when to my 
intense surprise he addressed me some question in broad 
Aberdeen Scotch. He has been fifty-two years away, 
and has almost forgotten English, but has not lost the 



March 7, 1873. 

DEAR SIR, Accept my warmest thanks for your kind 
and cordial letter of the 2oth Feb?. I forwarded it to 
Lord Lindsay, and we are both agreed as to the desirability 
of attending the meeting of the German Committee for 
the Transit of Venus, and the meeting of the " Astrono- 
mische Gesellschaft " at Hamburg. ... I will then arrange 
my visit to the Continent so as to first visit Pulkowa, and 
be in time to attend the meeting at Hamburg on my way 
home. By this plan I hope to have the pleasure of seeing 
you at Pulkowa, and possibly also afterwards at Hamburg. 

I assure you I look forward with a prospect of great 
pleasure and advantage to my visit to your splendid 
observatory, now that your kind letter makes me so sure 
of a welcome. 

Believe me, very truly yours, DAV. GILL, Jr. 



April 2, 1873. 

MY DEAR GRUBB, . . . Now about another matter 
I wish you to be putting on paper. 

A photograph of the sun being taken, say during the 
transit of Venus it is required to ascertain whether any 
shrinking of the film has taken place, and if any, to 
measure it. 

The method we propose to adopt is to rule a series of 
lines on a plate. Immediately after the photograph is 
taken the plate which was exposed (a dry plate) is put 
in a pressure frame and exposed behind this plate long 
enough to photograph the lines upon it on the plate which 
has before been impressed with the image of the sun. 

The plate is then developed and fixed, and we have on 
it an image of the sun and of the ruled plate. 

1 [Discoverer of the connexion between sun-spot periods and 
terrestrial magnetism, Annalen der Physik, Ixxxiv, p. 580.] 


We know the true distance of the lines on the ruled 
plate. The difference of the lines on the developed 
photograph is the contraction. The lines being suffi- 
ciently close so that by interpolation we can find the 
shrinkage of any point relative to any point. . . . 
Yours always, DAV. GILL, Jr. 

On March 20, 1873, in a letter to Professor Henry 
Draper, in America, he says 

As the prospect of an early dissolution of Parliament 
has involved Lord Lindsay in politics and he is about to 
contest the Borough of Wigan, his time, you can thus 
very well understand, is much occupied. 

During 1872, Gill had correspondence with Airy about 
the Transit of Venus and about Jupiter's satellites, as 
well as clock construction. On March 25, 1873, he sends 
to him his own observations for latitude on eight nights 
with the new altazimuth as a test of the accuracy of its 

On December 19, 1872, he gives to Messrs. T. Cooke & 
Son, of York, his suggestions for the control of a rotary 
pendulum ; and later he discusses the same with Grubb. 

In 1873 his tour of foreign observatories and the 
meeting of astronomers at Hamburg were important 
events in his life. 

To JAMES GILL (in Australia) 

Nov. 27, 1873. 

MY DEAR JEM, It really is a very long time since I 
wrote to you. 


I suppose my news must begin with my visit to the 
Continent. Well, I left Leith about the first August, 
by steamer for Hamburg, along with the Rev. Prof. 
Smith 1 (called Hebrew Smith), one of the clever Smiths 
of Keig. This was a Saturday, and the following Monday 
afternoon we steamed into Hamburg. On Saturday 
night we parted he for Leyden and I for Copenhagen 
1 [Professor Robertson Smith.] 


via Kiel. I arrived at Copenhagen the following day 
about noon, saw some of the sights, visited the Observa- 
tory, Prof. D' Arrest and Schjellerup, had a night at the 
observatory, and a walk and various glasses of beer with 
the Professors, and left next day steamer and rail for 

I had a Swedish bath there, a new sensation. You are 
popped into a bath, hot water turned on, and you get 
hotter and hotter, and an old woman scrubs you all the 
time with a brush and soap, cracks your joints, and so on. 

Stockholm is a lovely place, quite intersected by arms 
of the sea and no omnibuses, all steamers there are 
about eighty of them continually plying. I arrived at 
Stockholm early in the morning and left by steamer at 
midnight for St. Petersburg. The navigation is entirely 
through islands, and so you can only travel by day. We 
stopped the first night at Abo, the next at Helsingfors, 
and the next evening at St. Petersburg. You pass about 
5000 islands, and altogether the sail is a most charming 
one. We had delightful society and a most pleasant 
trip. The approach to St. Petersburg is very fine. 
First Cronstad, with its awful strength the old, huge 
granite forts which Charley Napier did not knock down, 
which all the Russians say he might have done, and the 
low, iron-plated forts, so awfully strong with n-inch 
Armstrong guns, and a narrow channel full of torpedoes, 
and such a channel that a ship must run the gauntlet of 
all the forts to get in speak of a place impregnable. 

Then the towers of St. Petersburg come into view long 
thin minarets and splendid domes richly gilt in fact, 
covered with gold, they say, as thick as half a sovereign. 
There I found two astronomers and a carriage waiting 
me, to drive me out to Pulkowa, thirteen miles off, where 
I arrived at eleven o'clock p.m. I got a most warm- 
hearted welcome from Struve, and went to bed. I need 
not tell you all the glories of Pulkowa, but greater kind- 
ness I never met in my life. Fancy 150 people all living 
under one roof. Five families of astronomers amongst 
the number, and, of course, five married ladies, all in 
harmony together that is a marvel, is it not? They 
have each their separate suite of five rooms and can be 
as private as they like, but they have jolly parties and 
have great fun. 

When I had been there four or five days I was taken 


ill thought it was indigestion and tried castor oil worse 
and worse so went to St. Petersburg. Struve sent me 
in with his brother-in-law, who looked me out an hotel 
and a doctor. Doctor said my digestion was all right, 
but that I had inflammation of the membrane of the 
lung and had caught it by cold at night. Recommended 
a good dinner, a bottle of good wine, and cold water 
bandages. That dinner did me a world of good. I had 
starved myself and hoped thereby to get well, and got 
worse. After three days I was able to get up and leave 
with Struve for Hamburg (fifty-two hours by rail). I 
stopped to rest at Berlin for a couple of days, and got 
much better there. Then on to Hamburg, where the 
meeting of the Astronomical Society took place. We 
had every day grave meetings from nine to four, and then 
all off by steamer somewhere and had a jolly dinner 
together. I met and made the acquaintance of all the 
great men of the day, and enjoyed this very much. 1 

On the Saturday (I reached Hamburg on the Tuesday) 
Lord Lindsay joined me, and on the Monday we were 
invited to take part in the deliberations of the German 
Committee for Transit of Venus so down we went to 
Hanover. There we stayed till Thursday, and then off 
to Paris, where we arrived on Friday morning. Spent 
Friday and Saturday there and then straight home to 

Then Mr. Grubb arrived to put up our big telescope. 
Now Mr. Simms is to be here with our Transit Circle. 
We have started a time-gun. We are putting up the 
tents and houses that go to the Mauritius, and all together 
I have been busy as possible since I came. Bella sends 
the domestic news. 

I have been twice Roe shooting five were killed on 
each occasion, but I did not get a chance. We had the 
usual great day with the Pheasants, 270 head, 185 Pheas- 
ants, 13 guns. I have had two days at Blairythan : 
10 brace, 9 hares and some rabbits ; and 6 hares, 7 brace, 
6 rabbits. I will write Pat next mail. My time is up. 
I am delighted to hear that things are looking better. 
Your loving brother, DAVID. 

1 The present writer has a vivid recollection of the Hamburg 
meeting. He and Gill were already old friends with common 
tastes (both preparing for Transit of Venus expeditions). At 
Hamburg they did everything in common. Argelander, the 


Twenty-one years later Gill wrote to Professor Simon 


July 17, 1894. 

MY DEAR NEWCOMB, ... Do you remember our 
Congress of 1873 at Hamburg and Hanover? There I 
first met you, my good friend, and Auwers and Winnecke 
and a host of others who have been dear to me ever 
since. The stimulus which that meeting gave me goes 
on still. What did I not learn in that short time ? What 
friendships, useful and dear to me ever since ! ! 

In the autumn of 1873 the arrival of Howard Grubb 
at Dun Echt to set up the great equatoreal and of Mr. 
James Simms to erect the Transit Circle were memorable 



October 7, 1873. 

MY DEAR GRUBB, I should have written to you before 
now but the Heliometer came just after you left, and 
that had to be mounted, and on the Wednesday morning 
I left for some shooting and only returned yesterday. 

I had a splendid night the Sunday you left. Not very 
steady for high powers, but very clear. 


I sent Lord Lindsay the following telegram : " Night 
and telescope splendid. Lamp damnable." 1 I did not 
exaggerate. The lamp made me use very unwontedly 
strong language. . . . Always yrs., DAV. GILL Jr. 

doyen of the meeting, and also Struve, took them under their 
charge. The other most intimate friends were Auwers, Win- 
necke, Bruhns, Repsold, Peters, Rumker, Schonfeld, Tietjen, 
among the foreigners ; J. C. Adams and Huggins were the British 
members. Newcomb represented the United States. They also 
met Zolner and v. Asten. Every interval in the daily work was 
occupied by the two young enthusiasts in a visit to Repsold 's 
works, to inspect Lord Lindsay's Heliometer. 

1 [Expletives of this kind were occasionally used by this 
essentially pious man, never for the injury of any one but only 
according to old Scottish custom (so it is related by Dean Ramsay) 
as "an affset to the conversation."] 


From this date the heliometer became his pet instru- 
ment, for he was perfectly astounded at the minute 
accuracy of his observations with it. 

The first intimation of an intention by Lord Lindsay 
and Mr. Gill to use the heliometer at Mauritius for ob- 
servations of the minor planet Juno, as a second method 
for getting the solar parallax, appears in the postscript of 
a letter to Dr. Auwers of Berlin. 

1874. March 2. P.S. The Heliometer observations 
come out so beautifully that I almost think a good 
determination of the parallax 1 of Juno might be made 
from the parallactic displacement due to the Earth's 
rotation. [The note proceeds to detail his preliminary 

At the same time he writes on the same subject to 
Brunnow and also to Hind. 

1 Parallax is an angle which can be measured and from which 
we may derive the distance of an object. Standing at some fixed 
spot in your garden you may see a church steeple due north. 
If you move your position four yards eastward, the steeple seems 
to move a little to the west of north; one degree west if it be 
distant 230 yards; two degrees for 115 yards; half a degree 
for 460 yards, and so on. Thus if you measure the degrees or 
fraction of a degree by which the steeple's direction seems to be 
displaced, you are measuring the parallax, and can tell the distance 
of the steeple. An observer on the equator is carried daily (by 
the earth's rotation) 4000 miles (the earth's radius) to one side 
or other of the earth's centre. The consequent change of a planet's 
direction is its parallax, and if this be measured, its distance can 
be found. An observer is carried every year (by the earth's 
revolution) 93,000,000 miles (the sun's distance) to one side or 
other of the sun. The consequent change of a star's direction 
is its parallax, and if this be measured, its distance can be found. 
The change of direction from the direction as seen from the earth's 
centre in one case, and from the sun in the other, is called the 
parallax of the planet or star. The term solar parallax is com- 
monly used to mean the maximum parallax of the sun at its 
mean distance as observed by a man on the equator at sunrise 
or sunset. The more correct expression is the mean equator eal 
horizontal parallax of the sun. If, in the above terrestrial example, 
we substitute 1000 miles for a yard, it can be applied to the moon 
when it has an observed parallax of i. The man's displacement 
from the earth's centre at moonrise or moonset would be about 
4000 miles (the earth's radius), and the moon's distance about 
230,000 miles. 


On March 27, 1874, he answers inquiries from C. Niven 
about spectroscopic work, and especially radial velocity 
measurements of double stars. 

One of the most interesting binaries, I think, will prove 
to be Procyon. I send you a memoir which my friend 
Dr. Auwers has recently sent me 1 please return it. 
The motion of Procyon in line of sight could be well 

As the time available shortened, his anxieties about 
the non-delivery of instruments increased. The forces of 
Nature, too, gave him the opportunity for testing his self- 
reliance, and for clear thinking at the supreme moment 
of apparently irrevocable disaster. To give an example 
of this. We find in his correspondence the whole history 
of his setting up the 40-ft. photographic lens, by Dall- 
meyer, In conjunction with the i6-inch siderostat, by 
Eichens, and the photographic plate-holder in the focal 
plane, by Grubb, each being mounted on a separate 
masonry pier, and housed. 

We find him writing in great glee at the success of his 
preliminary trials. Then comes a letter to Lord Lindsay. 2 


February 27, 1874. 

DEAR LORD LINDSAY, Yesterday after I wrote you 
the gale rose still higher about 1.30 with a fearful gust 
it veered more to the East, caught the Siderostat House 
on the side, threw it over and smashed it to pieces 
carrying with it Siderostat, 40 ft. O.G. stand and all. 
The same gust, getting under the floor of my old observa- 
tory, forced open the door, lifted off the roof, and threw 
it smashed in pieces fifty yards off. 

I got men at once, and we got the siderostat removed 
in pieces into the observatory. 

I am thankful to say the damage done is far less than 

1 [The celebrated computation of Procyon 's orbit, round the 
invisible companion indicated by Bessel, computed by Auwers, 
and discovered by Schaeberle with the Lick Telescope in 1896.] 

2 Lent with others by the Earl of Crawford and Balcarres from 
the Archiva Lindesiana. 


I anticipated. The mirror is safe, and so, I think, is the 
polar axis, but we cannot say until we have got it in the 
lathe ; we are just taking it to pieces for that purpose now. 

The sliding arm at back of mirror is bent, and that 
must be renewed; the aluminium arm and the slow 
motion in Decl. part are somewhat twisted, but not more, 
I think, than we can manage here. Botts really has 
behaved splendidly, and shown an amount of anxiety 
and real usefulness and interest which, I think, we sh d 
not forget. 

The upright pin upon which the mirror turns is bent, 
but we have looked out a piece of good steel (an old 
chisel), and Botts will make a new one. 

The closest shave, and most lucky escape, is the 4o-ft. 
lens. It was broken off from the upright which carries 
it, its cell squashed and bruised in an awful way, and yet 
it seems all sound unless it gets some permanent flexure 
from the present state of strain in which it must be. 

I send it off to Davis to-day asking him to take it 
himself to Dallmeyer, get his report on it, and urge its 
speedy repair. 

I propose, if you think well of it, after we have found 
out what parts of the Siderostat require to be renewed, 
to take the pieces and run up with them myself to Cooke's 
and see them put in hand. I will first require to set the 
new houses going on Monday and Tuesday, and to receive 
Carpenter, 1 and go on Wednesday. Let me know if you 
think I sh d do this. 

It was just touch and go with the big dome. I don't 
think I ever spent such an anxious day. Had we not, 
just a few days before, arranged a new plan of fixing 
down the horizontal shutter by putting a bar across it so 
[sketch and description], it would have been blown away 
and then nothing could have saved the dome. 

One of the plates in the roof has been slackened from 
its rivets, and it was only by keeping this slack plate 
always away from the wind that the dome was saved. 
The weathering was most effectual. 

The Heliometer room we dared not open yesterday. 
To-day we find it full of water, and the floor of the 
chronometer room in a flood by water blown under the door. 


1 [From Greenwich Observatory, engaged as Gill's chief assistant 
r Dun Echt.l 


The Transit Room is absolutely dry. I think you 
should order that wooden porch. 

I enclose a letter just come from Auwers which will 
explain itself. 

I have a lot of things to do before post time. 

In haste, always sincerely yours, DAV. GILL, Jr. 

These are the occasions that count in the education of 
an engineer, who only by experience can learn, if he has 
the self-reliance to meet disaster. But his trouble with 
the 40-foot lens was not yet over. It was returned to 
him in a new cell apparently perfect, and, greatly relieved, 
he writes as follows 



March 26, 1874. 

MY DEAR SIR, I am happy and thankful to say the 
restored lens has arrived safely. May the gods reward 
thee. Yours very truly, DAV. GILL, Jr. 

But on April 7 he has to write a long letter to him, 
beginning as follows 

I am sorry to tell you that what I feared is true. The 
4o-foot lens gives a double image. Ah 

This letter goes on to describe in detail the infinite 
pains he took in locating the trouble. The siderostat 
mirror was tested and found to be perfect. The fault 
was definitely located in the lens. By turning the com- 
ponent parts of the lens separately in their cell as well as 
both together, and observing a pin-hole in a metal plate 
at the focus of a collimator, and by testing for strain 
by polarized light, he was eventually assured that the 
trouble was wholly due to faulty curvature of the 

So a new crown-glass lens had to be made; and at 
last, on May 25, not so long before his date for sailing, 
he was able to write to Dallmeyer 


I have just tried the 40-ft. There is now no double 
image by the test I described before. . . . The rays 
come very sharply to focus J inch is easily detected. 
Spherical aberration must be very perfectly corrected. 

So once more, for the time, all is well, and that trouble 
a thing of the past. 

Among the minor anxieties, as the time for sailing 
approached, was the collection and rating of fifty hired 
or purchased chronometers for differential longitude 
determinations between Aden and Mauritius. This and 
the connexion of longitudes by telegraph between Aden 
and Greenwich were a very important part of the Transit 
of Venus work. Finally the plans for the voyage had 
to be changed, and it was decided that Gill by himself 
should carry the fifty chronometers and a portable 
altazimuth direct on a P. & O. steamer to Aden and 
thence tranship to Mauritius, while Lord Lindsay with 
the bulk of the instruments and assistants should travel 
by the Cape in his yacht Venus, of 380 tons. The pre- 
parations for this responsible duty, all alone, naturally 
gave Gill some anxious days. 

The collection of the chronometers, and testing their 
rates, was difficult; but other delays in the last few 
weeks were heartrending. On April n, 1874, he writes 
to Mr. James Simms : "I am very much disappointed 
that you have not answered my enquiries about the 
altazimuth. I do sincerely hope that you will at once 
see to its being sent off, when I explain the very responsible 
position in which I shall be placed and with only that 
instrument to rely upon." And again, on April 14,* he 
again writes to Simms : " It will be a most serious matter 
for me if you do not at least approximately fulfil y r 
promise of sending the Altazimuth in a few days." 

On the same day he writes to Messrs. T. Cooke & 
Sons: "Are you going to drive me mad! You will if 
you go on in this way." 

These urgent representations succeeded. On April 28 

66 DUN ECHT [CHAP, vi 

he tells Simms : " The Alt. Az. came last night and seems 
very fine." 

On June 2, 1874, he answers part of a letter from 
Davis in these words: "A line to say that if you don't 
write me till I am not busy our correspondence is likely 
to come to an untimely death/' 

To the same correspondent he is more explicit on 
June 7. 

Just a word now about my being busy. You seem to 
think it strange my being so. Tupman x not so. 

1. Capt. Tupman had ever so many trained assistants. 
I had next to none. 

2. Capt. Tupman was in the midst of instrument 
makers. I 500 miles away from them. 

3. Capt. Tupman had all, or nearly all, his instruments 
a year ago. I had not half of ours a month ago. 

4. Captain Tupman had no chronometer expedition to 
arrange and no Heliometer work to labour at. I had all 
his different observatories as well, and to determine all 
the constants of the instruments with my own hands. 

5. Capt. Tupman had all forms of observation and 
computing done for him. I had to do them all myself. 

6. Capt. Tupman had nothing to do but Transit of 
Venus work, I the regular work and superintendence of 
much going on here besides. Tupman had no chrono- 
graph experiments, which occupied a fortnight of my 
critical time. 

I think you will find my work has been Tupman's x 3, 
not -r 3. 

In the end it was a satisfaction to find that he could 
leave Dun Echt, on his way to Mauritius, conscious that 
his* efforts had been successful and that every instrument 
was ready. He was able to witness the transport of his 
portable astronomical village by steam traction engine 
into Aberdeen for shipment. 

1 [Captain (now Colonel) Tupman, R.M.A., was taking charge, 
at Greenwich Observatory, of all preparations for all the five 
British Expeditions.] 



The outward voyage Night fishing Lord Lindsay's arrival 
Return to Egypt, and surveying operations Khedive's 
offer Good-bye to Dun Echt. 

THE Arcliiva Lindesiana contains the MS. of a lecture 
delivered to a select circle by David Gill at Aberdeen 
describing his voyage to Mauritius with the chronometers, 
while Lord Lindsay, with assistants and instruments, 
in his sailing yacht, Venus, was going round the Cape. 
The MS. gives the reader some faint notion of his diffi- 
culties when making observations of stars for time in 
the short stoppages he had at Suez and Aden. Still more 
graphic are the anxieties he experienced in dealing with 
Arab boatmen when transporting his valuable and easily 
deranged chronometers. And the labour of comparing 
fifty chronometers twice a day in the course of a severe 
attack of sea-sickness rouses our compassion. 

Having transported his fifty chronometers from Liver- 
pool, where they had been rated, to Greenwich, he started 
from that observatory alone, in charge of them on two 
cabs, leaving Airy and his assistants bewildered at his 

He shipped them at Southampton on June 18, 1874, 
in specially fitted cabins, with entire success. He reached 
St. Denis in Mauritius on August 3. Here he was wel- 
comed by Mr. Meldrum, and made all his preparations 
to set up the instruments when they should arrive with 
the yacht, which did not happen until the beginning of 
November, owing to bad weather. He was able to give 
assistance to Transit of Venus observers from England, 



France, Holland and Germany who were to be stationed 
at other islands. In this way he met Captain Wharton, 
commanding H.M.S. Shearwater, who was conveying the 
British observer, Mr. Neate, R.N., 1 to Rodriguez. Captain 
Wharton afterwards became Hydrographer to the navy 
and so became very intimate with Gill, in whose house 
at the Cape Observatory he died in 1905. 

The astronomical results of this expedition have been 
published elsewhere and need not be described here in 
detail. But the MS. contains some account of the 
manner in which the spare time was spent while waiting 
for Lord Lindsay's arrival. 

The spot chosen for the observing station, on climatic 
grounds, was on a part of the island which had been 
brought into cultivation, with astonishing results, by a 
delightful and remarkable Frenchman, M. de Chazal. 
This patriarch of the settlement was pleased to do all he 
could for the astronomers. Gill was delighted to see the 
effects of his energy, perseverance and taste upon a bleak 
volcanic area. M. de Chazal with his sons, daughters, 
and their children, all lived and worked together at St. 
Antomi. When Gill arrived, after a little talk the family 
sat down thirty to breakfast. Several sites were offered ; 
and when " Belmont " was chosen carpenters were 
soon at work on the house, and masons were levelling 
and building pillars for instruments. Every kind of 
amusement was provided when the yacht failed to 
appear. A particularly graphic account of a night's 
fishing on the coral is full of life. 

Having accepted an invitation from Rudolph de 
Chazal to spear fish on the reefs round Amber Island, we 
set off one evening about five o'clock. The carriage took 
us to the beach, and the boat (named after the Prince 
who used it) the Prince Alfred took us to the Island. 
Here we put on old clothes, and sailed for the reef about 
a mile out to sea. The flambeaux (great bundles of 
small pitchy sticks bound together) are lit and we step 

1 Commander Neate, R.N., died June 13, 1916. 


out upon the reef up to the knees in water. Here we 
separate into parties of two or three, each party being 
accompanied by a black fellow carrying a lighted flambeau 
over his shoulder. It was already quite dark. Each 
flambeau lighted up clearly a little space around, showing 
the dark waves breaking white on the reefs, becoming still 
and green as they pass inside the basin. In the distance 
each party in its illuminated circle is seen clear and 
distinct passing off to its fishing ground, or a sportsman 
stopped over a pool with uplifted spear ready to strike. 

But this strange effect of light is not so strange as the 
scene under foot. The reef is like a road, broken up by 
deep pools and fissures and flooded with water but what 
a road ! So beautiful ! so variegated ! Coral every 
shape and colour, wonderful animals, bunches of sea- 
weed all the wonders of tropical submarine life new 
to me and beautiful. 

Behind is Amber Island, only visible by the huge 
wood fire on which dinner is being cooked, and the other 
fishing parties getting smaller and smaller in the distance. 
' Now for our own proper work, we come to a hole and 
I see only a wonderful natural aquarium" See," says 
Rudolph, but I see nothing. " Ah, he is gone," and I 
was too late, again and again too late, and then at the 
next hole I thought I saw a curious long blue stone, it 
moves, down plunges the spear and a struggling at the 
end told I had struck. " Keep him down, keep him down 
to the bottom/' cried Rudolph "now" and up with 
the spear came a large blue fish with a bill like a parrot 
and called the parrot fish. The Malabari took him off 
and put him in a bag and we passed on. 

This fish proved to be the largest we got that night, but 
we had a wonderful collection of fishes gold and silver, 
red and blue and grey, and wonderful appetites for the 
excellent dinner we found waiting us on Amber Island. 

The September mail brought the Aberdeen carpenter 
with the houses for which there was no room on the 
yacht. The anxiety caused by the non-appearance of 
Lord Lindsay's yacht became great, and it was not until 
November i that a welcome messenger arrived to say 
that Lord Lindsay and Dr. Copeland had left the yacht 
in a calm with the steam launch, and were at the Hotel 
de 1'Europe in Port Louis, 


Among the caricatures of eminent men that used to 
appear in Vanity Fair, by Spy (Leslie Ward), none was 
truer to life than that of Xord Lindsay, in May 1878. 
There are still a good many people who remember the 
young Lord Lindsay of those days, his geniality, his 
remarkable personality and his mannerisms, as well as 
the fierce expression he could assume on occasion, with 
his red hair and beard and his blue spectacles, and the 
temptation is irresistible, to insert here (literatim) the 
manner of his unannounced arrival, as given in the local 



Drole d'histoire, tout de me" me, que celle que je vais 
vous raconter. 

Elle a le privilege d'etre vraie, c'est ce qui fait qu'elle 
sera encore plus difficile a avaler. 

Done la voici : 

Le noble Lord disons-le noble, puisqu'il Test de par 
ses titres, debarquait il y a quelques jours parmi nous. 

A peine arrive, la faim le prend, et il se fait conduire 
a un hotel quelconque. 

II etait vtu comme son maitre d'equipage, c'est a 
dire qu'en le voyant on n'aurait pu savoir a qui on 
pouvait avoir Tavantage de parler. 

Milord, done, se rend a Fhotel, et le dialogue suivant 
s 'engage entre lui et le restaurateur. 

Bonjour monsieur. 


Je voudrais bien prendre quelque chose. 

Que desirez vous ? 

- Avez-vous du sherry ? 

Et Thotelier le regarde, avec Tair de se demander : 
" mais peut-il payer? " 

Le costume du visiteur repondait negativement a 
cette importante question. 

Servez moi, dit milord. 

Et comme 1'hotelier se grattait la tte pour savoir s'il 
f allait obeir, ou non : 

" Qu'est ce que vous avez ici de bon a manger? " 
- J'ai du rostbeef . . . . 




J'ai du plumpudding. . . . 


J'ai du jambon. . . . 

No ! ! ! Donne-moi des sand witches. 
Tutoye, Fhotelier se cabre. 

- Ah ! mais permettez. . . . 

Assez cause. Servez moi ! 

Enfin on le sert avec une perplexite croissante. Milord 
boit, mange, se rince la bouche, jette sa serviette, et se leve. 

Pouvez-vous me donner une chambre ? dit-il. 

L hotelier qui tremble pour sa consommation, 
repond aussitot : 

Ca depend . . . nous verrons ca tout a 1'heure. 

Ah ! . . . bien ! dit milord. 

Et machant son cure-dents, il s'eloigne dans la direction 
de la porte d'entree. 

En deux bonds, Fhotelier franchit le perron, et le 
re joint. 

Milord se retourne et le toise. 

- Comment appelez-vous ce monument ? dit-il, en 
designant le palais de justice. 

Ca, c'est la Cour ! dit Fautre visiblement agace. 

Et cela? 

fa, c'est la cathedrale. 

Ah ! tres bien ! tres bien. Joli I Ah ! bien joli . . . 
bonjour ! 

L'hotelier qui se croit joue, se plante heroiquement 
devant lui : 

Mais les consommations se payent comptant ! 

Ah ! dit milord qui ne comprend rien a son air, 
tres bien ! 

Et tirant des souverains de sa poche il en donne un a 
Fhotelier ebahi. 

- Attendez que je vous rende le change ! dit ce dernier 
subitement calme*. 

No ! gardez. 

Mais si fait ! 

- No ! je vous dis gardez. 

Mais, monsieur, je n'ai pas besoin de recevoir un 
cadeau de vous. 

No ! gardez. . . . 

- Mais monsieur. . . . 


- Au fait, continue I'hotelier, comme vous m'avez 
demande une chambre, ca se retrouvera entre nous. 
Sous quel nom f aut-il vous inscrire ? 

Milord se detourne alors, t avec le flegme britannique : 
Lord Lindsay ! dit-il. 

- Lord Lindsay ! . . . Milord ! pardon ! pardon 
Milord ! ! ! s' eerie le malheureux hotelier. Je ne savais 
pas ! pardonnez moi. 

- Ouais ! tres bien . . . arrangez la chambre. 

Et il sort ait les deux mains dans les poches, tandis que 
1 'hotelier saluait a reculons. 

The valuable work accomplished by Lord Lindsay's 
Mauritius expedition is accessible to all astronomers 
in the Dun Echt publications. Clouds interfered with the 
critical observation to get the time of apparent internal 
contact of the edges of Venus and the sun. But they got 
photographs and heliometer measures during the transit 
of Venus, as a black spot, over the sun's surface. 

It is a lamentable fact that, at least in Gill's 
opinion, the net result of all the costly private and 
national transit of Venus expeditions amounts to this : 
that the time of true contact cannot be fixed with cer- 
tainty, and that this method for determining the sun's 
distance cannot be relied upon, and is useful only as a 

Lord Lindsay and Gill had, however, another string 
to their bow. The heliometer was used for measuring 
the distance of the minor planet Juno, then in opposition. 
This result gave for the sun's distance a value which we 
now know to be close to the truth. But the work was 
not done under the best conditions, owing to the delay in 
the yacht's arrival until after the planet had passed the 
most favourable position. This experience neverthe- 
less convinced Gill that the best method for getting the 
sun's distance would be found in heliometer observations 
of a minor planet in opposition. 1 

1 See the extremely able articles on Solar Parallax by D. Gill, 
in The Observatory for 1878. 

i8 74 -5] HOMEWARD BOUND 73 

The chronometric longitude determinations were ol 
great value to astronomy and geography. But the 
grandest result for astronomy of this expedition was 
that it made a man. Gill's reputation as a most ac- 
curate observer and organizer was established; he had 
gained confidence in himself to carry out any such work, 
however difficult, that he might undertake; and he had 
proved the value of the heliometer by the accuracy and 
consistency of his own observations. 

On January 8, 1875, Gill sailed from Mauritius 
with chronometers for the final work of connecting the 
longitudes of Belmont in Mauritius with (i) the Isle of 
Reunion, (2) The Seychelles, (3) Aden, (4) Suez, (5) 
Alexandria, (6) Malta, (7) Berlin. He arrived at Aden 
on January 20; and some interesting facts are given in 
a letter to Lord Lindsay's mother at Florence. 


January 23, 1875. 

DEAR LADY CRAWFORD, I am very glad to hear 
that my letters have interested you, and still more so 
that you are pleased with the arrangements I made at 
Mauritius. . . . We have had so much to do in Mauritius, 
owing to the late arrival of the Yacht, that we have been 
all overworked, and a few days before I left, Lord 
Lindsay was quite knocked up. . . . The Aden Mauritius 
steamers as you know are not very good, and there was 
a very fine steamer coming which should sail from Port 
Louis for Ceylon. Lord Lindsay was to avail himself 
of this. ... To complicate matters Dr. Copeland became 
ill and we lost his assistance for ten days. But we were 
fortunately favoured with very clear nights, and all this 
great mass of work has been done between Xmas Day 
and the 6th Jan?, and I believe thoroughly well done. . . . 

At Reunion I went ashore at once and got Dr. Oude- 
mans to come on board, bringing his chronometers with 
him. Their error was determined the previous night, 
and so the comparison we then made was the means of 
connecting Reunion in the circle of longitudes of which 
Belmont is the centre. 


I was very anxious to determine the longitude of Mahi, 
the capital of the Seychelles, ... as Captain Wharton 
is making it a point from which to determine the longi- 
tudes in his survey of the jeoast of Africa near Zanzibar. 

I had to land an instrument on arrival and determine 
time by sun or stars or whatever I could get, but because 
of measles at Bomba [?] we were put in quarantine. I 
then applied to the Captain to be allowed to land on the 
Quarantine Island. . . . The little Captain, however, 
was in such a rage at being put in quarantine that he would 
not allow me to land, or what was the same thing would 
not give me a boat to go, and I was in despair when to 
my great delight I heard the cheerful voice of my friend 
Captain Wharton " Hullo Gill, are you there?" He 
had been detained on some surveys of reefs on his way 
to Seychelles, and hearing we would be put in Quarantine 
had turned out all his officers during the day to observe 
equal altitudes of the Sun for time, and had come off 
himself to get one of Lord Lindsay's chronometers for 
comparison with his own. 

He had previously obtained permission from the 
health officer to be allowed to receive two chronometers, 
" if they were previously disinfected." I applied to the 
Captain to send the chronometers. " What ! chrono- 
meters ! send chronometers ! Where ? Who ? What ? 
Have I not told you you cannot go? " 

" I don't wish to go only to send chronometers." 

" But you cannot impossible quite impossible." 

" Will you not assist me? " 

" No, I shall not. Why should I ? " 

" In the cause of science." 

" I know nothing of science, only money." 

(I must tell you the Captain always when excited takes 
every astronomer for a Prussian because he has four 
Prussian astronomers on board and it is almost too much 
for him.) 

" But it is of importance." 

" Important or not it is nothing to me. They have 
put me in quarantine, and am I to break quarantine for 
your sake? you whom I carry only because you pay." 

r< What do you mean ? " 

" Ah, pardon, I thought of these Prussians." 

" Well, Captain Wharton is there and has obtained 
permission to take two chronometers from the ship." 

1874-5] ARRIVAL IN EGYPT 75 

" Eh what obtained permission, you say? " 

" Yes." 

" To land chronometers ! They make exceptions for 
him and they will not allow me to land anything. Very 
good, I will write to the Governor." 

" Yes, I think you are quite right. You should allow 
me to land the chronometers, and then you will have 
good cause of complaint." 

" Exactly." 

So the chronometers having been duly rubbed with 
vinegar were put into a boat and dropped astern when 
Captain Wharton received them, and the little Captain 
retired to his cabin where I saw him for a long time 
furiously composing letters to the Governor. . . . 

On passing through Egypt [on the way out] I happened 
to meet one of the surveyors of Egypt he told me of 
the commencement of a survey of the country. . . . 
The consequence was first a private letter asking if I 
would undertake to measure a base line in Egypt. I 
asked Lord Lindsay's consent, and he has kindly given 
it. ... I have on arrival here an official letter from the 
Minister of Public Works, desiring me to convey the 
thanks of the Government to Lord Lindsay. ... I hope 
to see Lord Lindsay in Egypt on his way home. Mrs. 
Gill is at Cannes. . . . 

With kind regards to Lord Crawford and all the family, 
I remain. Sincerely yours, DAV. GILL, Jr. 

Gill telegraphed from Aden to his wife at Cannes 
to join him in Alexandria. Having completed his 
observations at Aden and Suez he reached Alexandria 
and mounted his altazimuth on the roof of the hotel 
where he and his wife lived. Mr. Gibbs of the Eastern 
Telegraph Company assisted them. Then they went 
to Cairo and became the guests of the Khedive Ismail. 
Finally, they took up their abode in an untenanted house 
which the Khedive furnished for them, at the Pyramids 
what has since become the Mena Hotel. Among the 
scientific friends who visited them were Dr. Dollen of 
Pulkowa, Professor and Mrs. Watson of Ann Arbor, 
U.S.A., and Colonel Sir Charles Moore Watson, R.E., 


K.C.M.G., C.B., the friend and lieutenant of General 
Gordon. Without Professor Watson's help he could 
hardly have succeeded in pleasuring the base, so un- 
trustworthy did he find fiis Arab engineer assistants. 
The work was satisfactorily done, and the two astro- 
nomers then set to work on an accurate measurement 
of the pyramid base, clearing out all the sand from the 

Mr. Flinders Petrie, in speaking of measurements at the 
Pyramids, tell us 1 

Mr. Gill now Astronomer Royal at the Cape when 
engaged in Egypt in the Transit Expedition of 1874, 
made the next step, by beginning a survey of the Great 
Pyramid base, in true geodetic style. This far surpassed 
all previous work in its accuracy, and was a noble result 
of the three days' labour that he and Professor Watson 
were able to spare for it. When I was engaged in reducing 
the triangulation for Mr. Gill in 1879, he impressed on 
me the need of completing it if I could, by continuing it 
round the whole pyramid, as two of the corners were 
only just reached by it without any check. 

Unfortunately, in the course of Egypt's troubles later 
on, the MSS. relating to the base line, which were in 
General Stone's care at Cairo, seem to have got lost; 
Major Lyons, R.E., F.R.S.,too, informs us that the Arabs 
at Gizeh destroyed all the landmarks left by Gill and 
chipped out the engraved metal plates which marked the 
extremities of the measured base. 

Lord Lindsay paid the Gills a visit on his way through 
to his parents at Florence, and after the work was 
finished further matters of scientific interest arose at the 
initiative of General Stone and the Khedive. Before 
speaking of them it may be right to insert here a summary 
of what he accomplished during his residence with his 
wife among the Arabs at Gizeh. This is compactly put, 

1 Pyramids and Temples of Gizeh, 1883, p. 2. See also further 
details about this survey at pp. 205-7 * the sa u i e book by Mr. 
Flinders Petrie. 


in a final letter to Lord Lindsay before embarking at 
Suez for England. 

To LORD LINDSAY (at Florence) 

CAIRO, May 14, 1875. 


I have not much time to write for I only finished 
work late last night and have everything to prepare to 
start for Suez to-morrow with a special train to catch the 

I defer a full account of the work done till we meet, 
but I have measured a very very accurate kilometre, 
established the latitude and longitude of the Great 
Pyramid, and measured the sides and height of the Great 
Pyramid to + i millim., and their exact azimuths by a 

Dollen and I began a determination of the deviation 
of the plumb line by the Great Pyramid, but poor 
Dollen was seized with a return of haemmorhage of the 
lung and compelled to go, with his instrument, before we 
could get any result. (The true displacement is about 
2".) Professor Watson of Ann Arbor has been here for 
the last fortnight and has helped me very much. . . . 

To PROFESSOR NEWCOMB (at Washington) 

ALEXANDRIA, February 21, 1875. 

MY DEAR NEWCOMB, I am here in Egypt on my way 
home from Mauritius, and among my letters find one 
from Grubb of Dublin which is the immediate cause of 
my writing to you. 

He tells me that you have been making the round of 
the European optical workshops in quest of a maker 
for the great telescope of the new Californian observatory. 
He asks me to write you and tell you my opinion of 
himself as a mechanic and an optician. . . . 

The Transit is over. We lost first contact at Mauritius 
but got a very fine lot of photographs, some good Helio- 
meter measures and some double image measures of 
Venus' diameter. 


In November I got a fine set of determinations of the 
diurnal parallax of Juno which I believe will give a very 
excellent result of the Solar Parallax. 

Always sincerely yrs., DAV. GILL, Jr. 

While Gill was carrying on his measurements at or 
near Cairo, from February to May 15, General Stone, 
who was the Khedive's adviser, recommended an accurate 
survey of Egypt; and the Khedive invited Gill to 
carry it out in one or other of two ways, (i) To sever 
the connexion with Lord Lindsay and to enter the 
Khedive's service as Director of Surveys, (2) To direct 
the survey from Dun Echt, paying a visit every year to 

At this time Lord Lindsay, in poor health, was resting 
with his father and mother at the Villa Palmieri in 
Florence. Gill sent on to him the proposals of the 
Khedive, asking if there would be any objection to his 
going to Egypt every year for a couple of months. 

Lord Lindsay clearly saw that this would not work, 
but both he and Lord Crawford wrote on March 19 
earnestly supporting the proposal that Gill should take 
up permanently the influential and honourable appoint- 
ment offered to him. They thought not only that the 
position would be the best possible opening for him, to 
a far greater career than he could hope for as Lord 
Lindsay's assistant, but also after having worked so well 
together in completing the great Transit of Venus Ex- 
pedition, this would be a suitable occasion for a change ; 
and, if Lord Lindsay and Lord Crawford were now to 
object to losing his assistance, they felt that they would 
be incurring an obligation, in honour if not in law, 
to continue the existing relationship indefinitely, even 
should they themselves wish at any future time to alter 
the mode of carrying on the observatory. 

Gill saw the importance of the views put before 


him, both by Lord Lindsay and Lord Crawford, and 
eventually wrote to say that, if the Khedive would show 
good cause, he would accept the appointment. On 
May 14, however, a letter to Lord Lindsay shows that 
the Khedive had ended the matter differently. There 
already existed in Cairo an Astronomer and also a Pro- 
fessor of Geodesy. These Egyptians became alarmed at 
the proposals made to Gill, and 

moved heaven and earth to persuade the Viceroy that the 
existing maps were for the present good enough, that 
Egypt should be surveyed by Egyptians not by foreigners, 
etc., etc., and finally upset all General Stone's plans. 

So it fell out that it was the Khedive, in fact, who first 
put it into the heads of Lord Crawford, Lord Lindsay 
and Mr. Gill, that their existing relationship might not 
necessarily be permanent. There was indeed already 
a vast change in their relative positions. Gill was no 
longer the young amateur hoping for some opportunity 
to leave a commercial career for astronomy. He had 
already become an astronomical observer and organizer, 
with a scientific reputation, living in close intimacy and 
continuous correspondence with many of the greatest 
living astronomers. Struve and Dollen, Foerster, Vogel 
and Auwers, Backhuyzen and Oudemans were in frequent 
correspondence with him, as well as Newcomb, Airy, 
Adams, Stokes, Huggins, and many others. The pro- 
posals for the Mauritius expedition, and for getting the 
sun's distance from observations on Juno by heliometer 
these had been published as common property with Lord 
Lindsay. But it was Gill himself who, by the results 
already attained, had proved himself an incomparable 
observer, with an instinct in the use of instruments and 
a perfect genius for the combining of check observations 
for the elimination of systematic error. These qualities 
were known to his correspondents and had now raised 
him to a high rank among practical astronomers. 


He may not himself have been fully conscious of all 
this, but he was very conscious of the extent to which 
any advance he had made^ was due to his position as 
Lord Lindsay's assistant. 

On his return to Dun Echt the little house built for 
him beside the observatory often received distinguished 
visitors. Lady Crawford (Lord Lindsay's mother), how- 
ever, when the house was built (to establish a Director 
or assistant on a very modest salary to carry on observa- 
tions under Lord Lindsay's direction) had never intended 
that such an assistant should be a man of great reputation, 
receiving visitors whose equipages would have to be put 
up in her stables. She had never thought that in build- 
ing the observatory house, they were establishing a 
gentleman's villa in the very middle of their park. 

Her view was perhaps a not unnatural one, and 
accordingly Lady Crawford resolved to revert to her 
original intentions, and to cut down the amenities which 
had arisen round the residence, and also to give a part of 
the Gills' house to Mr. Carpenter, Gill's assistant, and 
his wife. 

However sound this judgment may have been as to 
the position to be occupied by the Director of Lord 
Lindsay's Observatory, it could not be very satisfactory 
either to Lord Lindsay or to Mr. Gill. The position, in 
fact, became intolerable. 

Meanwhile, it was becoming very difficult for Gill to 
do no more than act solely in carrying out the orders of 
his chief, and for Lord Lindsay to feel justified in limit- 
ing Gill's energies to his own conceptions about the work 
of his observatory. Then the situation created by Lady 
Crawford's objections was well considered and the two 
friends decided to part, with undiminished friendship 
and esteem on both sides. 

There never had been, in the history of astronomy, a 
more successful partnership, or one so entirely devoid 
of friction ; or one in which each party was so absolutely 


loyal to the other, with an ever-growing affectionate 
friendship. And Gill never in his life forgot his debt to 
Lord Lindsay for rescuing him from a tradesman's career. 
But after the most careful consideration they agreed it 
was best that Lord Crawford should determine the agree- 
ment of December 1871, by giving notice of six months 
and paying the sum stipulated in their original bond. 
This was in November 1875, but Gill carried on the 
work beyond the six months. 

Had this most wise decision been avoided it would have 
become inevitable either that Lord Lindsay should lose 
control of his own observatory, or that Gill would be 
unable to make the most of such talents as he possessed 
for the advancement of astronomy. 

The writer was fortunate enough to visit the happy 
home of the Gills at Dun Echt, had the great pleasure of 
Lord Lindsay's acquaintance, learnt from each of them 
the respect and affection in which he held the other; 
has read all the existing letters between them, and has 
been told by Gill himself of the way in which their 
partnership came to an end; and he would like to 
express his admiration of the unselfish loyalty and 
sympathy of each of these men to the other not only 
during the years while they worked together, but through- 
out life. At the same time he has now the opportunity 
of testifying to the debt that astronomy owes to Lord 
Lindsay for his prophetic insight when he transformed 
David Gill from a watchmaker into an astronomer. 

When James Ludovic Lindsay, the twenty-sixth Earl 
of Crawford, and Earl of Balcarres, died on January 31, 
1913, Sir David Gill wrote an excellent biography of his 
old chief, which appeared in Nature on February 13, in 
which, after enumerating his scientific works, he says 

He had an inborn genius for mechanics and engineering, 
a love of science in every form, and a passion for travel ; 
and inherited from his father the love of all things rare 


and beautiful, together with the instinct of the antiquarian, 
the bibliophile and the collector. His generous and 
sympathetic nature endeared him to all who were his 
fellow workers, and more than one man has to thank him 
for scientific opportunity that would have otherwise have 
been denied him. 



Last days at Dun Echt Sir George Airy Ascension expedition 
A catastrophe Anxieties Success Mars Bay Mrs. Gill. 

THE last year of the Gills' residence at Dun Echt (1875-6) 
was a year of great happiness in many ways. The astro- 
nomical work was largely computation of results obtained 
at Mauritius, and further checking and measuring the 
minute instrumental errors which inevitably attend the 
finest constructions by human hands. Outside of this 
work there was much to brighten Gill's life. The con- 
siderable reputation he had made as an observer, and 
as a planner of new and more accurate methods for 
attacking astronomical problems, had brought him into 
consultation with some of the greatest intellects of the 
day. His experiences abroad had widened his outlook 
beyond the boundaries of his own parish. At the same 
time his personal friends in Scotland, while recognizing 
the success which had attended his perseverance and 
industry, were delighted to find that there was no 
change in the genial cordiality of his interest in the 
occupations of his friends. Thus his artistic friends, in 
sculpture, painting and music, rallied to his house for 
those intellectual and aesthetic symposiums for which his 
home was then and afterwards famous. John Brodie, 
Sir George Reid and his brother Archie, Robertson Smith 
and many others, found their way out to the observatory 



Sir George Reid's letters to him at this time were nearly 
always illustrated by quaint designs, and show his great 
appreciation equally of t}*e astronomer and the man. 
To Gill he exposed a humorous side of his nature almost 
unknown to his other associates. Those who have read 
Mr. John Kerr's charming Memories Grave and Gay will 
recall his notes in Chapter XIX of the little club of artists 
and literati, including David Gill, who used to meet at 
this time, as a club, in the old manse of Deer. 

It was at this time, too, that his brother Jem came 
home from Australia for a holiday. This was the last 
time that these two were to meet in this world; and it 
remained a constant pleasure to both of them, there- 
after, to recall the happy days they spent together in their 
old occupations of rifle-shooting and cup-hunting at the 
various wapinschaws; besides the more trivial amuse- 
ments of social parties and dancing, in which the two 
brothers took a great delight. 

In the early summer of 1876 Sir George Airy paid one 
of his much enjoyed visits with his daughters to Scotland, 
this time to the far north and the Orkneys. In his auto- 
biography reference is made to the visit he then paid 
to Mr. Webster, M.P. for Aberdeen. 1 Here once more 
he met David Gill and learnt more about his work and 
occupations. At the date referred to, Airy was recog- 
nized, even by those Directors of Observatories who had 
differences with him, as occupying unchallenged the very 
first place in the world as Astronomer and Director of a 
National Observatory. Adams and others might have 
attained his level in astronomical research. Otto Struve's 
method for conducting an observatory might be preferred 
by some to his own. But the fact remained that he was 
the first man of the day in the astronomical world. His 
mathematical methods were looked upon by some of the 
Cambridge pioneers as clumsy, but they were infallible 
so far as they went. The orderly habit of mind which 
1 Sir G. B. Airy's Autobiography, p. 318. 


was based on geometry governed the methods and system 
in astronomical reductions with which his name is always 
associated, as well as the strictness of rules in the con- 
duct of his observatory about which some of his foreign 
visitors told amusing tales. The same geometrically 
exact turn of mind governed his designs for astronomical 
instruments. He was a born engineer, and it was he who 
first took the construction of equatoreal and transit-circle 
mountings out of the hands of the optician and maker of 
surveying instruments, and entrusted them to the great 
firms of mechanical engineers. Add to this the strict 
sense of duty towards his science, his country, and the 
Admiralty in whose employment he was, and we have a 
fair notion of this stern, unbending Astronomer Royal, 
who for so many years maintained the reputation of 
Greenwich Observatory as the most fertile home of 
accurate astronomy of position in existence. 

It must not be forgotten, however, that Sir George 
Biddell Airy had a very human side. His great reserve 
could not conceal from his intimates the depth of his 
domestic affections. Although to the scientific world 
his sterner qualities alone were apparent, his intimate 
friends derived infinite pleasure from his genial interest 
in themselves, his love of nature, of historical enquiries, 
of humorous anecdote, of literature and of music. 1 

David Gill possessed a very strong bump of veneration, 
and was much influenced by the character of the Astro- 
nomer Royal. Airy, on his part, had followed Gill's 
progress with great attention, and had the very highest 
opinion of his capabilities as an observer. 

During his visit to Mr. Webster in Aberdeen, the Gills 
and Airys were lunching with a dear old friend of Gill's, 
Mr. John F. White, of Bridge of Don, and Airy asked 

1 One of the writer's most distinct recollections of visits by 
the Airy family to his father at Pitlochrie was the Irish devilry 
with which the Astronomer Royal joined in when his daughter 
sang the " Shan Van Vocht." 


Mrs. Gill about their departure from Dun Echt, and 
what work her husband would be engaged upon. She 
spoke of the computations- he had to make in connection 
with the solar parallax and his observations on the minor 
planet Juno. To this Airy replied, " We cannot afford 
to allow your husband to be without a telescope/' 

Thus it happened (as shown by existing letters) that 
when David Gill decided to part from Lord Lindsay, 
and there seemed to be no place in the world for him to 
fill at the moment, the two men upon whom he relied 
for guidance were Airy at Greenwich and Auwers at 
Berlin. Both of these men responded sympathetically. 
One suggestion of his own was that he should spend at 
least a year or two in Germany studying the language 
and increasing the range of his mathematics. He also 
considered, among other plans, the wisdom of joining 
Mr. Howard Grubb as a partner in his manufacturing 
business. The plan went so far as to specify the terms 
of partnership. Auwers made inquiries also as to the 
possibility of finding an astronomical position for him in 
Germany or at Pulkowa. But it was Airy who, in his 
quiet, undemonstrative way, took the young astronomer 
under his wing with increasing appreciation of his quali- 
ties, until he even went so far as to consult him on his 
own work when a sound judgment was required. 

Not very long after Airy's remark to Mrs. Gill at the 
Aberdeen luncheon, he found occasion to show his appre- 
ciation in a practical manner. Gill's correspondence shows 
that, immediately after the 4-inch heliometer had first 
reached Dun Echt, and after using it for a few nights, 
he wrote to Mr. Cooper Key saying that his results were 
so extremely accurate that with the heliometer he believed 
he could determine the solar parallax from observations 
of Mars, at its nearest approach to the earth, by Airy's 
method, better than from observations of the transit of 
Venus. It is true that after his experience with Juno he 
came to the conclusion that far more accurate work 


could be done with one of those minor planets of small 
diameter, which are shown in the telescope as mere 
points of light, than with a larger and nearer planet, like 
Mars, showing a disc of sensible size, affected by phase. 
But in the year 1877 Mars would be nearer to us than 
for the next hundred years, and he wanted to do the 
very best that could be done with that planet. 

In the latter part of 1876 the Gills migrated to London, 
and Gill looked about for the means to accomplish his 
object by a voyage to the Isle of Ascension. First, he 
applied to Lord Lindsay for the loan of his heliometer. 
He, as soon as he had given up all idea of doing the same 
thing himself, at Madeira or Teneriffe, freely lent the 
instrument, saying, " There is no one to whom I would 
sooner lend it than to you"; and eventually insisted 
also upon Gill's carrying off his chronograph too. 

This being arranged, there was only the question of 
funds to be considered. It was now that Sir George Airy 
first used his powerful influence on Gill's behalf, 1 and, 
largely at his instance, the Royal Astronomical Society 
made an application to the Royal Society to devote to 
this purpose some of the funds administered by the 
Government Grant Committee. This was refused, and 
then the R.A.S. gave 250 out of their own funds and 
raised another 250 by subscription, Airy himself being 
one of the subscribers. Gill never in his life forgot this 
act of the R.A.S. It led him ever after to devote himself, 
whenever possible, to the society's interests. 

This difficulty being overcome, astronomers felt confident 
that the success of the Ascension expedition was assured, 
in the hands of the man who had already proved what he 
could do single-handed in adverse circumstances. 

The friends who principally had used their influence 
in this matter were Lord Lindsay, Airy, Adams, Hind 

1 Sir G. B. Airy's Autobiography, 1877. " In April of this year 
I was much engaged on the subject of Mr. Gill's expedition to 
Ascension to observe for the determination of the parallax of 
Mars at the approaching opposition of that planet," p. 318. 


and Huggins (who was then Pres. R.A.S.). All of their 
friends who knew anything about life on the Isle of 
Ascension were lost in aditliration of his bright and 
charming young wife, who was determined to share his 

At the time of their departure Mr. Howard Grubb 

We are delighted to hear that you and yours are well, 
at all events, and trust you may continue so. Certainly 
you have a brave wife to go to such places with you. 
May [Mrs. Grubb] is beginning to think that some wives 
besides herself care for their husbands. 

A fortnight before the start upon this expedition, the 
helio meter was at the rooms of the R.A.S. at Burling- 
ton House. Gill was erecting it there and an accident 
happened which nearly ruined the whole plan. 

Through the kindness of Mr. W. H. Wesley, the highly 
respected assistant secretary of the R.A.S. , who was 
present at the time, the following account of what he saw 
can now be told 1 in his own words. 

It was, I think, in April of 1877 I have no record of 
the exact date ; the heliometer which Lord Lindsay had 
lent for the expedition to Ascension had been brought to 
the Society's rooms where Gill was setting it up. He 
had to see that everything was in perfect order before it 
left England, and he proposed to show and explain it 
at the next meeting of the Society, so it was being 
mounted in the meeting-room. He had been at work at 
it for a day or two, and all was ready and in order, when 
he thought he would adjust the polar axis to the latitude 
of Ascension : this being near the Equator, the axis had 
to be lowered till it approached the horizontal. I had 
been with him most of the time he was at work, but had 
left him for a few minutes and gone into my office; I 
heard a loud crash in the meeting-room and ran to see 
the cause. There stood the iron pillar, but the instru- 

1 Sir David's own account of the accident is in his History, 
etc., p. xxxii; Mrs. Gill's in her book Six Months in Ascension. 
p. ii. 


ment, no longer upon it, lay, with the object-glass end 
leaning against the meeting-room table, and the eye- 
end, with its elaborate arrangement of tubes, etc., driven 
through the floor. The instrument was supposed to 
be a " universal " equatoreal, and Gill had been turning 
the screw to lower the axis, when the screw gave 
out not being sufficiently long and the whole compli- 
cated mass of apparatus was flung violently to the 

And there upon the front seat of the meeting-room 
sat Gill, his face buried in his hands, down which blood 
was trickling, as he had made an ineffectual clutch at 
the falling mass. He said something about everything 
being ruined himself the instrument the expedition. 
It was painful to see a strong man so completely broken 
down. But it only lasted a minute or so : he suddenly 
got up and said, " Let us see what can be done/' He 
instantly began his examination of the wreck, and asked 
me to go to Lord Lindsay and tell him of the accident. 
When I got back Gill had determined the extent of the 
damage, and decided upon the course to be taken. The 
vital portion of the instrument, the divided object-glass, 
had fortunately escaped injury, having been protected 
by the metal cap, which struck the meeting-room table, 
leaving a deep dent which is to be seen to this day. The 
eye-pieces with their tubes were ruined, but Gill would 
see Simms about them at once, and get them renewed. 
As we know, everything was done in time, and the 
expedition was an entire success. 

In Gill's young days the most urgent astronomical 
problem was to measure as exactly as possible the sun's 
distance from the earth. At that time it was known to 
lie between ninety and ninety-six millions of miles. 
Astronomers required to know it within a thousandth 
of its amount. The distance of the sun from the earth, 
or of Mars, or of a minor planet, had to be measured 
accurately. The question, then, was : " who would be 
capable of doing it ? " 

Gill set this before himself as his first duty to science, 
to give all his energies to helping in a solution of that 
problem, and a considerable correspondence between 


him and Sir George Airy on this subject, from January 
8, 1876, onwards, testifies to their mutual regard. 

On February 24, 1876, Air$ says he has no intention 
of equipping a Mars expedition, but will rely upon the 
large equatoreals at fixed observatories for measuring 
the displacement of Mars caused by the earth's diurnal 
rotation ; and he will be glad to examine any scheme of 
Gill's for using a heliometer. 

Meanwhile Gill, after corresponding with Auwers, hopes 
to use the opposition of the minor planet Melpomene, 
and perhaps Ariadne, at the same time as Mars. On 
March 6, 1876, Airy writes approvingly, at the same time 
saying, " I do not like small planets." 

There are many letters indicating the moral support 
he was giving to Gill's Ascension expedition. He also 
undertook to have the Mars and Melpomene comparison 
stars observed at Greenwich. 1 

While Gill was at work observing at Ascension he 
received several letters from Airy, from which extracts 
may here be made 

The sight of the ruddy blaze of Mars last evening 
reminded me of your enterprise and position, and 
made me desire to hear how you are going on, and 
how Mrs. Gill approves of astronomy and society in 

I have not much to communicate on the transactions 
in this country. There has been some uncomfortable 
quarrelling in the Astronomical Society. 

1877, November 6. 

i. I agree with you in inexpressible contempt for 
Meteorology. The reason of its attracting importance is, 
that it requires no capital, of money, instruments, or 

1 Sir G. B. Airy's Autobiography. "1878. It may be here 
mentioned that an extensive series of observations was made, 
during the autumn, of about seventy stars, at the request of Mr. 
Gill, for comparison with Mars, Ariadne and Melpomene," p. 322. 

1876-8] G. B. AIRY 91 

2. Most satisfactory is your report of work done, the 
32 + 25 observations ; I should think they would leave 
very little doubt on the parallax. 

3. I beg you to convey to Mrs. Gill the expression of 
my sincere and cordial respect, and my acknowledgment 
of the share which she has taken in this enterprise. 

4. About the possible sending to you an Altazimuth. . . . 

5. I hope that Melpomene will come off well. I look 
upon her as my planet, for the following reason which 
you will not find in books. On 1839, J une 2 4> I lost my 
noble boy Arthur. On 1851, June 24, 1 lost my dear 
daughter' Elizabeth. And, while feeling that day of 
sorrow, I learnt on that day a planet was discovered, 
which I was requested to name. So I fixed on the name 
of the muse of sadness. The Melpomene stars will soon 
come into observation. 

After the above charming extract it may be well here 
to forestall events, and to insert extracts from letters 
written in 1878, testifying to the confidence in Gill's 
unbiassed judgment, which Airy had already acquired. 


1878, February n. 

MY DEAR SIR, You know our anxieties about the 
proper interpretations of the eye-observations of the 
Transit of Venus. Captain Tupman has informed me that 
he thinks that you would not be unwilling to aid us with 
your independent judgment on that interpretation, more 
especially as applying to what may have been conceived 
as true internal contact. 

I should be very much obliged if you could assist us 
in the way suggested. . . . I am, my dear sir, Yours 
very truly, G. B. AIRY. 

The investigation was duly made and reported upon. 
Then finally, on March 4, 1878, Airy writes to Gill 

Your contribution to the discussion of the observations 
of the Transit of Venus is invaluable. 


Concerning the Ascension expedition it is unnecessary 
to say much here, and the reader is referred to a charming 
popular description written at the time, 1 in which Mrs. 
Gill described the difficulties encountered on the inhospit- 
able volcanic " clinker," and in their almost inaccessible 
encampment at " Mars Bay," with much humour and 
pathos. We see two beautiful lives being lived there; 
and the reader's sympathy is divided between the anxious 
observer, when the heavy and delicate instruments were 
being transported under dangerous conditions, or when 
the clouds refused for weeks to dissipate, and the wife 
who relieved him from attention to domestic concerns, 
while stifling her own anxieties concerning untoward 
meteorological and astronomical affairs. 

On June 14 Mr. and Mrs. Gill sailed from Dartmouth. 
Touching only at Madeira, they reached St. Helena on 
July i. Here they had to land and wait till the loth for 
the Edinburgh Castle to take them to their destination. 
In exploring this island, Gill seems to have taken far more 
interest in the remains of Halley's Observatory than 
in Napoleon's tomb. The observatory was set up in the 
seventeenth century when Halley commanded the first 
scientific expedition for astronomy and terrestrial mag- 
netism to southern latitudes. The climate here was so 
perfect and the skies were so cloudless, that there was 
a temptation to complete the work on that spot. But 
Ascension had been deliberately chosen on account of 
the weather reports, and Gill felt that he owed it to 
those who had financed the expedition to adhere to the 
programme they had approved. 

So on July 13 they landed in Ascension while that 
island was suffering from a slight attack of " rollers," 
that unexplained affection of the ocean in those parts 
which caused them some trouble later on. There was 

1 Six Months in Ascension, by Mrs. Gill. John Murray, 1878. 
Any one who has not yet read this delightful book has a treat in 

1876-8] A GRAVE DECISION 93 

no town on the island, only a garrison. The island was 
styled in the Navy List, " Tender to H.M.S. Flora," and 
was run on true navy lines. Bread was baked every few 
days, a sheep or two were killed twice a week, no vege- 
tables except sweet potatoes. Goat milk was generally 
served with the rations, except when there were many 
sick in hospital who needed it all. One gallon of water 
was allowed per day. 

Captain Phillimore was very helpful, and established 
them in an empty cottage ; and, in a very few days, by 
July 17, the instruments were set up without mishap. 
The observing books were laid out, but they remained 
blank for weeks. Clouds obscured Mars every night. 
The disappointment, the anxiety, and the responsibility 
grew with every night of cloud. At last it occurred to 
them that the clouds might be local, due to the vapour- 
laden trade wind passing over the hill-top to the 
south-east. So, one night, while Gill remained with the 
instruments, his wife insisted on marching with two 
guides and a lantern over the pathless rock for some miles, 
while husband and wife made simultaneous notes on the 
weather, every half hour from 10 p.m. to 3 a.m. Her 
report was favourable, and when they compared notes, 
there could be no doubt the clouds were local, and the 
instruments must be packed up again and transported 
to the windward side of the island. It was a grave 

On August I the dismantling process commenced, 
Captain Phillimore having recommended a certain cove 
near the south point of the island. On the 2nd a steam 
launch towed their gear in lighters, with Gill and Captain 
Phillimore, to the cove, which the Captain now christened 
" Mars Bay," and foundations were laid on the bleak, 
dusty, volcanic stones. The next day sixteen Kroomen 
carried overland the delicate instruments, and in three 
days the change had been made. It was a rough life 
there, for food and condensed water had to be carried 


from Garrison. At first Mrs. Gill remained at Garrison, 
and after a few days of work the expedition again appeared 
to be doomed to failure, for Gill himself succumbed to 
over-fatigue and exposure jb the sun, and was carried back 
suffering, as the doctor found, from slight fever and a 
swollen knee. Three days of rest, however, did wonders, 
and on August 10 he returned to Mars Bay with his wife 
to look after him. 

Thereafter things went better, and they had the pleasure 
of overcoming numerous difficulties. Time had been lost, 
but a splendid set of morning and evening observations 
of Mars was secured, enough to ensure the complete 
success of the expedition, and a triangulation was then 
made by heliometer of all the comparison stars. The 
actual opposition of Mars occurred on September 5, 1877. 
This work was all done by November 9. 

The opposition of Melpomene occurred on December 2, 
but up to that time no complete observations could be 
obtained, owing to bad weather, and eventually the attack 
upon this minor planet was abandoned. 

Of course, news was immediately sent to the Royal 
Astronomical Society of the successful completion of 
the actual observations of Mars. The astronomer and 
his wife must have felt some elation on receiving by 
return mail the following friendly letter from the 
President (W. Huggins). 

November 14, 1877. 

DEAR MR. GILL, Scene. Nov. 9 8.30 p.m. Burling- 
ton House. 

The whole society in a roar of excitement in applause 
at your success ! 

What is this? A fellow (the Astronomer Royal) rises 
to say that after all the real merit of success is not wholly 
yours. There is somebody else who has a claim, it may 
be even prior to yours I, as President, not only allow 
him to go on, but agree with him, and another louder 
roar of applause not to you, but to that other person. I 
hope it will not lead to feuds and jealousies in your tent 


if I tell who it is that has come before you in the Society's 
appreciation. That courageous and enthusiastic lady 
who just at the moments of greatest difficulty and anxiety 
filled your tent with sunshine and your heart with fresh 
courage. . . . WILLIAM MUGGINS. 

Their explorations and discoveries on the island in the 
interval before sailing must be read in Mrs. Gill's most 
delightful book. Captain Phillimore's sister-in-law, Miss 
Bourdillon, was the only girl on the island. Her youthful 
impressions of the astronomer have remained so vivid 
that she was able to describe them in a letter to Lady 
Gill in 1915. 

His keenness and enthusiasm appealed immensely to 
me; they were, of course, peculiarly refreshing there 
[at Ascension], and how delightful they were, and his most 
delightful sense of humour and power of enjoyment. 

I suppose he had great power of adaptability; I used 
to wonder then at the way he seemed to get on with 
every one. When staying with you those several times 
out in the tents at Mars Bay, I used to think it so delight- 
ful how he entered into the smallest details connected 
with the men your cook, and the bluejacket and Krooboy. 
He took such real interest in any whose lives touched 
yours. Do you recollect how he always read part 
of the Service with them on Sunday afternoon and 
evening ? 

How good and kind he must have been to me that I 
never was afraid of his cleverness ! What fun we used 
to have over all the quaint situations and doings of 
Ascension ! Some of those talks and readings out at 
Mars Bay are still quite vivid to my memory and even 
some of the stories he amused me with. You used to 
read to us in the cool of the day, do you remember, and 
how he enjoyed it, before the evening work came on. I 
still feel how desolate I was when you left. 

Readers of Mrs. Gill's Six Months in Ascension will feel 
that they are old friends with the bluejacket Gray don 
who attended them at Mars Bay. It is rather touching 
to read a letter he wrote to Lady Gill in 1915. 


I shall never forget the many acts of kindness I received 
from your Ladyship and Sir David. ... I have been out 
of the Navy on Pension nearly twenty years. . . . The 
happiest time of my twenty-three years service, I can 
sincerely state, were spent under Sir David and your 

I have a happy recollection of my visit to the Observa- 
tory at the Cape, and Sir David personally taking me 
all over the vast place, and joking about the difference 
to poor " Mars Bay," and he was so good to me when he 
wished me good-bye. I will never meet his like again. 

On January 9, 1878, the mail-boat arrived. On 
January 24 they landed in England, and were greeted 
by the astronomers with enthusiastic congratulations on 
their success. The reduction of the observations took 
time. They finally settled the conflicting estimates of 
the sun's distance; and the results were universally 
accepted until long after, when Gill himself improved 
upon them, by the observations made upon three minor 
planets with a more powerful heliometer at the Cape of 
Good Hope. 

The Gold Medal of the R.A.S. was awarded to him 
in 1882 for this work on the Solar Parallax. In the 
same year, and for the same research, he was awarded 
the Valz Medal of the Institute of France (Acad. des 
Sciences) . 

It must not be forgotten how much of the credit was 
due to her who supported him through his labours. His 
wife has always pretended that she knows nothing about 
astronomy. That may be so, and yet, all of those who 
knew will endorse what is said in this letter from Dr. 


BERLIN, January 7, 1879. 

I beg to tell again, how much I have been pleased in 
reading Mrs. Gill's fresh and lively account of the fortunes 
of your expedition. I now can judge myself how right 

1876-8] MRS. GILL 97 

was Sir George Airy in stating at some meeting of the 
R.A.S. last winter that a considerable and highly appre- 
ciable part of the success of the expedition was due to 
the unfatigued assistance you obtained from Mrs. Gill, 
and I cannot but ask her most sincerely to accept, from 
my part too, warm thanks of a scientific colleague for the 
enduring and successful share she has taken in such an 
important astronomical work. 

The Ascension expedition benefited Gill not only by 
enhancing his reputation as an astronomer. He wrote 
to astronomers all over the world, with most of whom he 
was not then personally acquainted, to ask them to 
contribute observations of position for the comparison 
stars which he intended to use with Mars in his heliometer 
observations. This correspondence created new and 
lasting friendships, none greater than with E. C. Pickering 
of Harvard and Gould of Cordoba. In reply to Gill's 
letter, when the work was done, describing his experiences, 
Gould's letter contains the following 

Your descriptions of disappointments, new endeavours, 
anxieties, etc., seemed like a narrative of past scenes in 
my own life. When I read your letter to Mrs. Gould she 
exclaimed, " How this recalls our own past." 

What splendid things these good wives are ! 

That Gill himself endorsed these sentiments is shown by 
an entry upon the fly-leaf of the copy of his Mars parallax 
Memoir which he gave to his wife. It is adapted from 
Carlyle's verse. 


So 1st das Werklein nun vollbracht 

Drum nimm's mein holdes Weiblein 

An Dich, im schreiben, hab'ich stets gedacht 

Und Es und Ich wir sind ja Dein. 


Although during his whole life Gill's energy was as 
remarkable at his desk as in his observatory, still there 
was nearly a year's work to be spent upon the reduction 

of his Mars observations at Ascension. 



Life in London Nasmyth Death of his father Radcliffe 
Observer Appointment to Cape of Good Hope Observatory 
Pulkowa Airy. 

DAVID GILL, after his Mars observations, had a great deal 
of computing to do, and, wishing to be near his astronomi- 
cal friends and the library of the R.A.S., he took rooms in 
London, and later on he furnished a house for himself and 
his wife in Kensington. Here he used a bare room on the 
top floor, without carpet or table-cover, as a study. He 
took great delight in showing to his friends certain old 
Spanish pictures which he had acquired, on the walls of 
the staircase and sitting-room. These pictures were a 
feature of his rooms in the observatory at Cape Town, 
and, after his retirement, at 34 De Vere Gardens, 

The future for Mr. and Mrs. Gill was still unknown and 
matter for some anxiety. Borne up with this new success 
as an encouragement, he set to work at the duty lying 
before him of finishing all the computations connected 
with his Mars observations. 

At this time the Gills widened their circle of friends in 
London ; not only among astronomers, but among people 
of culture generally, both literary and artistic. 

Mr. Samuel Smiles, the biographer, had long been an 
intimate friend, and at his house they met men distin- 
guished in various walks of life. Here one evening took 
place the first meeting between David Gill and James 
Nasmyth. Nasmyth is best known as the inventor of 

9 8 


the steam hammer, but his autobiography l is a fascinating 
record of mechanical and inventive skill applied to 
engineering, and, after retiring from business with a fine 
fortune, to making astronomical telescopes with his own 
hands, and adding materially to our knowledge of the 
heavenly bodies. 

It was he, in fact, who first detected the remarkable 
individuality of the minute components of the sun's 
photosphere visible only under the best atmospheric con- 
ditions, generally called Nasmyth's willow-leaves because 
of their shapes. His astronomical speculations, especially 
on the moon's constitution, were ingenious, and his 
mechanical skill in grinding and polishing specula very 
great. Nasmyth held very decided views about the true 
education of an engineer. 2 

The truth is that the eyes and the fingers the bare 
fingers are the two principal inlets to sound practical 
instruction. They are the chief sources of trustworthy 
knowledge as to all the materials and operations which 
the engineer has to deal with. No book knowledge can 
avail for that purpose. The nature and properties of the 
materials must come in through the finger-ends. Hence 
I have no faith in young engineers who are addicted to 
wearing gloves. Gloves, especially kid gloves, are perfect 
non-conductors of knowledge. This has really more to 
do with the efficiency of young aspirants for engineering 
success than most people are aware of. 

Nasmyth was proud of his " workman's hand," and 
was in the habit of signing papers with " his mark," an 
ink impression of his thumb-mark. [The writer has one 
of them before him while he indites these words.] 

The characters of Gill and Nasmyth had much in 
common, of mechanics, astronomy, and dogged persist- 
ence. After dinner on the evening when they first met, 
while they conversed upon subjects of mutual interest, 

1 James Nasmyth, Engineer : An Autobiography. Edited by 
Samuel Smiles, LL.D. London, John Murray, 1885. 

2 Autobiography, p. 95. 


Nasmyth suddenly seized hold of Gill's hand, a broad, 
strong, flexible hand, and. in his Scottish accent said, 
" Man, I like yer thoom ! f 

When the party broke up, Mr. and Mrs. Gill with James 
Nasmyth took the same omnibus. Nasmyth got out 
first. When Gill paid the conductor' the latter said, 
"And a penny for the other gentleman; he said you 
would pay his fare." The Gills were amused at this. 

The next day a letter arrived from Nasmyth enclos- 
ing a cheque for 1000 for Gill to spend on whatever 
astronomical instrument he might think he could do the 
best work with. Gill was full of gratitude for the welcome 
gift to their much-loved science, and deposited the money 
in the bank. As it happened, he was appointed to the 
Cape Observatory very soon after. So he returned the 
cheque that it might be applied more advantageously. 
Nasmyth, however, found an opportunity later to renew 
the offer. 

During this period he also made the acquaintance of 
painters in London already mentioned, and had many 
opportunities of cultivating his great appreciation for 

On April 6, 1878, his father died at Aberdeen, David 
having travelled north on account of his sudden illness. 
He was occupied for a month there with the business of 
the estate. As eldest son he became the owner of the 
estate of Blairythan, a farming property the rent-roll of 
which relieved him from any present uneasiness on his 
wife's account, and enabled him to devote himself all the 
more completely to his chosen path in life. 

At the beginning of May 1878 the death of the Rev. 
Robert Main, Radcliffe Observer, Oxford, left a vacancy 
at that observatory. The most notable feature of that 
place at the time was its possession of a magnificent 
heliometer, the only one in Britain besides Lord Lind- 
say's. It had never been put to any useful purpose. 
At that date there was only one man in Britain who had 


done good work with a heliometer, and his had nearly 
rivalled all that had ever been done elsewhere with it 
(even by Bessel), and this man was David Gill. 

Obviously this was a post to which he could undoubt- 
edly bring credit, and he applied for it. His friends felt 
equally sure about his special fitness for this post, par- 
ticularly those in Russia and Germany, who themselves 
had practical experience with the heliometer. There is 
a copy of Gill's testimonials among the papers in the 
A rchiva Lindesiana of Lord Crawford. Gill himself does 
not appear to have kept a copy. The names of his 
supporters 1 and their manner of stating Gill's claims 
ought to have borne great weight. Airy, when asked 
for support, quoted some rule he had which prevented 
his helping 

Among Sir David Gill's private papers, there is a letter 
to him from Sir George Airy. 



1878, June 10. 

MY DEAR SIR, Under various considerations I have 
abandoned the rule which I stated to you in reference to 
the position of Radcliffe Observer, and have addressed a 
letter to the Trustees of the Radcliffe Fund and Observa- 
tory. I am, my dear Sir, Yours very truly, G. B. AIRY. 

David Gill, Esq. 

Gill had no one to push his candidature ; so, in spite of 
his great claims as shown by testimonials and by his 
skill in using the heliometer, his name seems to have 
been put on one side. 

The other candidates were Stone, Christie, Tupman and 
Pogson. The Trustees gave the appointment to Mr. 

1 The names of Mr. Gill's supporters were : Lord Lindsay, 
Professor J. Clerk Maxwell, Dr. Muggins, J. R. Hind, Dr. Ball, 
Rev. T. R. Robinson, Professor R. Grant, Sir William Thomson, 
John Hartnup, Otto Struve, Professor Dollen, Dr. Auwers, 
Dr. Forster, Dr. Winnecke, Dr. H. C. Vogel, Dr. J. G. Galle, 
Professor Bakhuyzen, Dr. Oudemans, Professor E. C. Pickering. 


Stone. This left a vacancy at the Cape of Good Hope, 
but not immediately, for the Radcliffe Trustees allowed 
Mr. Stone to stay on at the Cape to conclude some valuable 
work on which he was then engaged. Until recently the 
Cape Observatory was almost the only one suitable for 
a study of the southern heavens. The requirements of 
astronomy in that direction were very great, and Gill 
felt it in him to do good work there for his beloved science, 
and applied for the post. The only other candidate was 
Mr. W. H. M. Christie, chief assistant at Greenwich Ob- 
servatory, whose claims to the appointment were placed 
before the Admiralty by the Astronomer Royal. 

Gill, during the anxious period of waiting, was hopeful 
but diffident; for he was well aware that he was a self- 
made astronomer, who owed nothing to outside influence ; 
that he had not been trained under any great astronomer ; 
that he had proved his mathematical powers to the world 
only to the extent required in actual work, and not by a 
contest in the Cambridge Tripos. But the friends who 
supported him knew that his reputation was established 
as an almost unrivalled observer, as an engineer for the 
design and equipment of an observatory, with remark- 
able organizing powers, and as an astronomer of great 
ability, lofty ideals, sound judgment, originality and 
dogged perseverance ; and that astronomy needed him. 

Gill was probably never aware of what he owed to his 
old chief, Lord Lindsay, for taking some trouble to see 
that in this case his testimonials should receive proper 
consideration. This can be learnt only by reading the 
private papers of Lord Lindsay, placed at the writer's 
disposal by the present Earl of Crawford. 1 

1 The present earl has given much help by searching out old 
documents for use in this biography. It is a splendid comment 
upon the present great European war that, when I asked, in 
August 1915, for further materials, Lady Crawford should, in 
reply to my letter, have told me that her husband would be 
unable for some time to attend to the matter, because "Lord 
Crawford is serving at the front as a private in the R.A.M.C." 


It really came as a surprise, and a great joy, to the 
Gills when, on February 10, 1879, first from Lord Lindsay 
and later from the Admiralty, the news came of his 
appointment as Her Majesty's Astronomer at the Cape 
of Good Hope. Among Lord Lindsay's papers there are 
two almost identical holograph notes, probably sent to 
different addresses, from Mr. W. H. Smith, First Lord of 
the Admiralty, announcing the decision he had reached. 

There were barely three months left for preparations 
before they should start for their new home. There was 
much to be done, and one of Gill's first acts was to write 
to Mr. Nasmyth returning his gift of 1000 as no longer 
being required. He had also to get rid of the lease of his 
house, and pack up his furniture and belongings. He 
was also anxious to establish more firmly the friendships 
he had made with astronomers abroad and his knowledge 
of their instruments before leaving for the southern hemi- 
sphere. And it was most important that he should have 
his Mars calculations complete before sailing. 

Some notion of the affectionate esteem in which Mr. 
Gill was even at this date held by his scientific friends 
may be gathered from the remarkable contents of the 
following letter. 



1879, March 31. 

DEAR SIR GEORGE, I have received a very unusual 
and liberal offer, viz. from Mr. Newall of the loan of his 
25-Inch Telescope for a period of years at the Cape, and 
of 1000 from Mr. James Nasmyth towards the cost of 
transporting and erecting the same. 

Such a proposal seems to deserve and require the most 
careful consideration. 

Of the work open for such an Instrument I need not 
write to you, nor need I write you on the other hand of 
the dangers of being over-instrumented. 

After much anxious thought I have determined to ask 
my generous friends to allow time for the consideration 


of the question. When I have discussed future work 
with Mr. Stone, when I have been on the spot and ascer- 
tained something of the capabilities of my staff then I 
should be in a better position to judge of the wisdom of 
accepting the proposal. 

If then I decided on accepting it I would be able to 
lay the matter before the Admiralty in a much more 
complete and practical form. In the meantime I would 
be greatly obliged if you would think the matter over in 
its various aspects, and on my return from the Continent 
give me your opinion about it. 

I would have called at Greenwich on the subject, but 
I leave on Monday morning on a visit to the Continental 
Observatories and have many matters to arrange which 
keep me busily employed. 


I am, my dear Sir George, very sincerely yours, 


Sir George Airy took a great deal of trouble about this 
offer, and wrote very fully when Gill returned to England. 
In the end it was settled to leave it over for the present, 
both Newall and Nasmyth allowing their generous offers 
to remain open for twelve months. 

The tour of foreign observatories had most valuable 
results. He visited Paris, Leiden, Groningen, Hamburg, 
Copenhagen, Helsingfors, Pulkowa and Strassburg. The 
personal friendships which he then made or strengthened 
secured all the co-operation that was often necessary to 
him in his isolated post at the Cape. His enthusiasm, 
force of character, and winning personality infected the 
younger men he met, and made some of them ready 
in after years to assist in his great undertakings. At 
Strassburg Professor Winnecke and his senior students 
in astronomy Kiistner, Hartwig, Hermann Struve, 
Ambronn and Elkin were all, from that time, his de- 
voted friends. And so it was everywhere and always. 

Professor Backlund supplies the following notes of 
Gill's visit to Pulkowa 


I remember well the impression he made on me, an 
impression which corresponded very nearly to the image 
I had formed from studying his scientific works. The 
remarkable clearness and energy in the expression of his 
scientific views did not, accordingly, surprise me. 

During his short stay in Pulkowo 1 the astronomers 
assembled to discuss a variety of astronomical questions, 
the last evening. It was in the house of Dollen; he 
exposed to us his plans for developing the Cape Observa- 
tory into a first-class observatory, and he did that in 
such a manner as to fully convince us that "ille faciet." 

After the conversazione he proved himself an enter- 
taining guest at supper. The hostess Mrs. Dollen 
talked with him about Paris, where he had spent some 
time before arriving at Pulkowo. To her question how 
he beguiled the evenings there after his scientific meetings 
he answered that he strolled along the boulevards looking 
at the beautiful Parisiennes. " How would that please 
Mrs. Gill if she knew it ? " asked Mrs. Dollen. " I strolled 
just for the pleasure of telling my wife what beautiful 
sights Paris has for the strangers," was the answer. 

After seventeen years I met Gill again, this time in 
Paris in 1896 at the astrographic congress and at the 
subsequent congress of ephemerides. The* seventeen 
years had in no way abated his energy ; on the contrary, 
they had enhanced it, supported now by the considerable 
success at the Cape. He had entered the ranks of lead- 
ing astronomers, and his vast views, greatness of mind, 
conscientiousness and acuteness in details, and enormous 
activity in all branches of astronomy, predestined him 
to sway in the dominion of astronomy. This great 
faculty to make his opinion prevail was renowned. In 
the Congress of Ephemerides there were two proposals 
about the value of the constant of aberration. Newcomb 
proposed 2o"'5o, a lesser value being not compatible with his 
theory of the planetary motions. Gill stood out for 20^47, 
deduced from his observations at the Cape. This value, 
which is greater than that of Struve, 2o"'44, was accepted. 2 

1 It is well understood that this spelling is considered by 
Dr. Backlund to be the correct one. It has been more con- 
venient in this book generally to use the old form " Pulkowa." 

2 The latest result (of 1915) finally reached at Greenwich with the 
wonderfully accurate floating Telescope of Cookson agrees exactly 
with Gill's value of 1896. See M.N. of the R.A.S., 1915. 


It is much to be regretted that we are not able to give 
in the same form the impressions of Dr. Auwers when at 
this time he, too, again received his friend in Berlin. But 
his sad death at an advanced age in 1915, on January 24, 
the anniversary of Sir David's death, and the circum- 
stances attending the war initiated by Germany against 
Europe and the higher civilization, have closed to the 
biographer the storehouse of information in the posses- 
sion of that great leader of astronomical work in Germany. 
From 1873 to 1914 Auwers and Gill worked hand in hand, 
knowing well that in every work undertaken to advance 
their science each could rely upon the other as upon a 
second self. 

This tour of the foreign observatories had a great 
effect on the future of astronomical observation. It 
enabled Gill to picture in his own mind his ideals for the 
creation at the Cape of the premier observatory of the 
southern hemisphere. Absorbing instrumentally all that 
was best in Europe, with definite departures in the direc- 
tion of still greater exactness ; following closely, in govern- 
ment and control of work, the lines of Airy's methodical 
system in operation at Greenwich ; and imitating, socially, 
Struve's example at Pulkowa, by uniting all the personal 
elements of an observatory into a happy, enthusiastic, 
patriarchal colony. His ultimate success in attaining 
these three ideals is attested by all, without exception, of 
those who served under him and of those who visited him 
at the Cape. He would have been the first to admit that 
much of the success accorded to him came from the 
friendships, among the older astronomers, which he 
formed in these earlier days. He was helped also by the 
numbers of enthusiasts, mostly young men, from all 
countries who desired to consolidate his friendship and 
to absorb more of his spirit, in many cases by working at 
the Cape as his disciples or collaborateurs. 1 

1 e. g. Elkin, De Sitter, Jacoby, Cookson, Auwers, McClean, 
Innes, Franklin -Adams. 

1 8 7 9l SIR GEORGE AIRY 107 

After returning from his continental tour he had a 
great deal to do with Airy, who was anxious to do the 
best with Newall's offer, for he knew well that, as an 
observer with the equatoreal, Gill was as capable of 
doing good work as he certainly was in the accurate 
fundamental astronomy of position. At this time Gill 
made himself master of Airy's well-known methods for 
arranging his correspondence, which he introduced suc- 
cessfully at the Cape, although his natural turn of mind 
often left his own desk in a condition of apparently 
hopeless confusion. 

During all these preparations he had to finish off his 
Mars reductions. During their conversations, the Astro- 
nomer Royal had discovered an unsuspected effect which 
might introduce a source of error into the results, due to 
atmospheric dispersion. The predominant ruddy colour 
of Mars might give to atmospheric refraction less effect 
in the case of the planet than of the comparison stars, 
especially with the lower altitudes. About a week before 
sailing Gill was able to send to Sir George Airy his final 



1879, April 26. 

The Mars observations are discussed. 

The resulting solar parallax from all observations is 

8" 7 8 3 * 

I have also divided the observations of each evening 
and each morning into two groups of greater and lesser 
zenith distance. The groups of greater Z.D. give 8"'j86. 
The groups of lesser Z.D. give 8"'78o. 

It would appear, therefore, that the chromatic dis- 
persion has exercised a very insensible influence in the 

1 This result was universally accepted. Gill's final attack on 
the problem with minor planets gave a result differing from this 
by only two-hundredths of a second of arc. 


Before their actual departure for the Cape, Professor 
Piazzi Smyth sent to the Gills a long account of life at 
the Cape Observatory founded upon his own experiences 
there forty years before. This was written on eleven 
folio pages, in his usual quaint manner of description. 
It concludes with two of his clever pen-and-ink sketches 
of the Cape Observatory, very interesting as being about 
the date 1843. 

When giving Mrs. Gill hints about house management 
there, he begins one paragraph thus 

In the way of entomology, I never saw a real disgust- 
ing B flat, as a musician said, except on a parcel brought 
to the Obs* out of Cape Town : but the lively little 
F sharp is to be kept in order by nothing but abundant 
washings down with soap and water; and therefore, no 
carpets ! But there is another flat thing they call a 
Bushfly, a creeping flat brown affair, who in the summer 
contrives to get upon you in your walks, and if you do 
not look sharp he begins burying himself head-first into 
some convenient place for him between your shoulders 
and very inconvenient for you to get at him. Husband 
and wife may then be of inestimable service, for if you 
get hold of the body of the creature you must pull gently 
only, or the head will come off; and being left in your 
skin will make the cure rather worse than the disease. 

Of reptiles, you must be forewarned of the snakes. . . . 
But occasionally a poisonous cobra is met with ; and 
occasionally also a puff-adder which is worse, for it will 
pursue to bite, as well as bite when pursued. 

It is impossible to withhold admiration, at this stage 
in his life, for the Aberdonian tradesman who, regardless 
of pecuniary interests, by his own efforts towards the 
attainment of his noble ideals, in the course of seven 
years of unremitting subordinate labour, had been 
placed, with the acclamation of the astronomical world, 
in a field of labour giving full scope to his indomitable, 
inexhaustible energy. 





New friends Mr. Trimen, F.R.S. Sir Fred. Richards Sir 
Bartle Frere Sir George Colley Sir Thomas Fuller Dr. 
Muir Cecil Rhodes General Gordon Social pleasures. 

My lines are so pleasant to me, that everybody ought to come to 
me to catch the infection of happiness. This work is what I looked 
forward to for long. CLERK MAXWELL. 

IN June 1879, Gill and his wife arrived at Capetown. 
Never in his life did he lose the impression produced upon 
his mind, that lovely morning, as the fog lifted, when he 
first beheld the glorious view of the flat-topped Table 
Mountain, of the Lion's Head and Rump, with the white 
buildings of the town resting along the sea front, and 
climbing the slopes behind. His predecessor at the 
observatory, Mr. Stone, who was to sail for home the next 
day, came on board to welcome them. Soon after, they 
all drove a few miles out, to the observatory, a forlorn 
spot where they must needs make their home. Only 
a rough, muddy road led, at that time, from the station 
to the observatory. The avenue was little better than 
a cart track up the side of the hill; the grounds 
were entirely neglected, and practically in a wild state. 
Except for the trees planted by Lady Maclear (whose 
husband, Sir Thomas Maclear, had been H.M. Astronomer 
there), the hill was untended, the only redeeming feature 
being the beautiful arum lilies and other wild flowers 
which in their season sprang up on all sides, and helped to 
give an appearance of cheerfulness which was otherwise 


wanting. The rooms, with furniture dismantled and 
prepared for sale, looked homeless and uninviting. 

They lived for a week at -an hotel in Cape Town. After- 
wards, when settled down in their future home, they 
began to discover great possibilities, and hopes arose 
that, with care and attention, the observatory might be 
made a charming place of residence. It was fortunate 
that the temperaments both of husband and wife led 
them to take this outlook, and not to abandon themselves 
and the place to despair as their predecessors had done. 
Before many years they transformed this wilderness 
into one of the most delightful homes in South Africa. 

They moved into the observatory before their furniture 
could be put in place. They themselves had already 
learnt to " rough it " together at the Pyramids and in 
Ascension ; - but now early callers began to arrive, to whom 
tea had to be administered on packing-cases for tables, 
a source of great amusement to guests and hosts alike. 
In a week or two order was better established. 

During their temporary stay at the hotel their first 
visitors were Miss Maclear (daughter of the old astro- 
nomer), Mr. Charles Fairbridge and Mr. Roland Trimen, 
F.R.S., then curator of the museum, afterwards resident 
in England. 1 These first visitors continued to be the 
dearest of friends. It is worth while saying a few words 
now about his relationship with the leading people when 
he arrived at the Cape. 

The deplorable condition of the observatory grounds 
became a blessing in disguise, for it enlisted the sympathy 
of a man who became Gill's staunchest supporter and 
adviser in negotiations with the Admiralty, Admiral Sir 
Frederick Richards, known to his associates as King 
Dick. 2 

1 Mr. Roland Trimen died July 25, 1916. 

2 In the crypt of St. Paul's Cathedral his marble portrait 
medallion in a frame of alabaster bears the following inscription : 
Admiral of the Fleet Sir Frederick W. Richards, G.C.B., D.C.L., 
First Sea Lord of the Admiralty, 1893-9. Vigilant and resolute. 


[To face page 112. 


(Drawn from Table Bay by George Forbes, 1914.) 


Ignorant of Admiralty methods, Gill wrote to Com- 
modore Richards (as he then was), the Commander-in- 
Chief at Simons Bay, asking him to come to see the state 
of things and to look at his report. He came, had 
luncheon, looked round, bade them good-bye, and said 
nothing. A few days later, by invitation, the visit was 
returned and the Gills spent the night at Admiralty 
House. After dinner he showed Gill a letter he had 
written to the Admiralty containing important sugges- 
tions. It ended with these words : "I should be glad 
if your Lordships would inform me what should be my 
relations with the astronomer at the Cape." After two 
months the invitation was repeated and after dinner the 
Commodore put into Gill's hands the Admiralty answer 
approving of the suggestions for keeping the grounds. 
The letter ended thus 

With regard to the concluding paragraph of your letter, 
in which you request to be informed what should be your 
relations with the Astronomer at the Cape, I am instructed 
by my Lords to inform you that the relations between 
the Commodore and the astronomer have hitherto been 
of the most agreeable description, and their Lordships 
trust that they will so continue. 

In relating this after his retirement, Gill added 

To the ingenious Admiralty official who penned this 
witty reply I beg to render my warmest congratulations 
on the manner in which his suggestions have been 
followed; for I can imagine no more kindly and helpful 
friends than those I found in the ten successive Com- 
manders-in- Chief under whom I had the honour to serve 
during my twenty-seven years' tenure of office at the 

The most important personage in the colony was 
the Governor, Sir Bartle Frere; and Gill's respect and 
admiration for him during the whole time of their 

With singleness of heart and purpose he devoted his life to the 
Navy and to the Empire, 1833-1912. 



acquaintance grew steadily with increased knowledge. 
Lady Frere's tact was impressed upon him forcibly 
at the first dinner given J>y her in Sir Bartle's absence, 
which he and Mrs. Gill attended. 

As the guests assembled a telegram was handed to her, 
but no outward sign of its seriousness was manifest 
during the evening. Next morning we were told that it 
contained news of the death of the Prince Imperial, who 
had been killed in Zululand. She was doubtless aware 
of the effect which this event would have on the career 
of her husband, and yet, so perfect was her courtesy, 
that by no outward sign could we detect the seriousness 
of the situation. 

Soon after, Sir Bartle returned from Natal and a 
public dinner celebrated the occasion, when the Gills were 
present. When speaking of this long afterwards, Sir 
David said 

A few days afterwards, photographs of the banquet 
appeared in the shop windows, when I observed, very 
much in the foreground, at the lower end of the table, an 
enlarged head of a gentleman with a bald spot on the 
back of it, which from the dress of the neighbouring 
ladies I soon identified as a representation of my own 
headpiece. Thus, much to my wife's amusement, I 
made the first discovery that I was bald. 

This was not the only occasion on which his own 
idiosyncrasies were revealed to him in a way that caused 
him much amusement. About this time a phonograph 
of early type was exhibited in Adderley Street. The 
Gills entered the shop to examine it. Gill spoke into 
the instrument. When he heard the reproduction of 
his own voice he turned to those round him and said : 
"Do I r-really r-roll my R's like that? " A burst of 
laughter assured him that the reproduction was accurate, 
and he himself joined in the merriment, utterly surprised 
at his discovery. 

In the interview from which some of the above 

i8 79 ] SIR BARTLE FRERE 115 

quotations have been made 1 Sir David added to his 

I shall never forget the impression which Sir Bartle 
Frere's personality made upon me. The earnestness of 
the man, his desire to promote everything that could 
conduce to the advancement of South Africa, the per- 
sistent questions he put to me as to what, from the 
scientific point of view, could best be done to forward 
its interests. He urged me to be president of the Philo- 
sophical Society, in succession to himself, and, although 
I at first refused on the ground that I had so much to do 
in organizing my new work, he came out one day person- 
ally to the observatory for the express purpose of insisting 
that I should take that position. Naturally, under such 
pressure I consented. 

During the conversation just mentioned, I endeavoured 
to impress upon him the necessity for setting on foot a 
systematic triangulation of the Colony, and he, accus- 
tomed to Indian administration and knowing the value 
attached to accurate survey there, aided my views in 
every way in his power. At that time the finances of the 
Colony were not in a flourishing condition, and the 
Ministers felt that they could not at the time respond to 
his earnest entreaty that the work should be set on foot. 
But the day after Sir George Colley arrived at Cape 
Town to take up the Governorship of Natal, Sir Bartle 
Frere brought him to the observatory in order that he 
might talk over the possibility of starting a systematic 
survey in Natal. As a result of that conversation Sir 
George Colley promised to advocate a survey of Natal 
as soon as possible. 

There is little doubt that Sir David Gill's estimate of 
Sir Bartle Frere is confirmed by the verdict of all com- 
petent critics. It was still more confirmed by what Lord 
Milner said to him, as he told it in South Africa 

I recall a specially interesting conversation with Lord 
Milner. It was shortly before his celebrated speech at 
Graaff Reinet. We were alone in the library after dinner 
at Government House, and were speaking together of the 

1 Majority special number of South Africa. 


situation. I can remember now his concluding words. 
He said : " I have, as you know, very closely studied 
the history of South Africa, and whenever I come upon 
the footprints of Sir Bartl Frere I feel that I am on solid 
ground. If I fail as Sir Bartle Frere failed I should die 
a proud man." 

Sir David goes on to say 

I have no doubt whatever that history will justify 
Lord Milner as it has justified Sir Bartle Frere; but it 
is sad to think that party feeling, prejudice, and ignorance 
in both cases combined, in the first place, to condemn 
men who deserved so well of their country, and who 
served it with such courage, ability and self-sacrifice. 

Sir David's final tribute to Sir Bartle, in the interview 
quoted, is as follows 

On August I of that year (1880) Sir Bartle Frere was 
recalled. No man ever better deserved the thanks of 
the Government at home and of South Africans generally 
than did that great administrator. No man was ever 
more cruelly and unfairly treated. Capetown understood 
the services he rendered and never before and never since 
[this was said in 1908] has a population so fully shown by 
the demonstration made at his departure the depth of 
feeling which possessed them. Capetown, from the top 
of Adderley Street to the Docks, was one mass of human 
beings waiting in respectful silence to make their adieu 
to the great man who was leaving them under the cloud 
of the displeasure of those who did not know; to the 
sorrow and regret of those who did. My wife, in 1880, 
was unfortunately ill and had to return to England for 
medical advice, and I, from having so recently arrived, 
was unable to accompany her. Lady Frere kindly under- 
took to look after her by the way, and I have often heard 
my wife say that it was amazing that a man who had 
suffered so much from unworthy treatment should have 
spoken always SQ gently and charitably of all that had 

South Africa used then to be looked upon as " the 
grave of great reputations." Sir Bartle Frere's reputa- 

i8 7 9] SIR BARTLE FRERE 117 

tion has increased with the years; and many a man 
pauses, in admiration, before his fine statue, in the 
gardens between Whitehall Court and the Thames, with 
" India " and " Africa " emblazoned on either side. The 
statue was erected by public subscription in 1888. 

Miss Georgina Frere has sent some notes about the 
relations between her father and Mr. Gill. 

Between my father and him mutual esteem and regard 
at once sprung up and never lessened. Sir Bartle recog- 
nized in him a man after his own heart, of swift intuition 
and of disinterested zeal for the public service. [She 
adds many personal recollections of Gill as he appeared 
in 1879.] Nothing came amiss, and in many forms of 
physical exercise he found the needed relaxation from 
the absorption of his work. Shooting and dancing we all 
know remained favourite forms of enjoyment to the end 
of his life, and when first in South Africa I remember his 
also riding a great deal. 



July 24, 1883. 

MY DEAR GILL, I have sent you by Garth Castle a 
box of Books, which I shall be obliged if you will 
present in my name to the Philosophical Socy. I hope it 
continues a vigorous existence under your auspices. I 
constantly see evidence in the scientific Journals that the 
Cape Observatory keeps up its old fame but it is long 
since I heard any tidings of what the Phil. Socy. are 
about. You will have been gratified by Trimen's F.R.S. 
Pray kindly congratulate him on his well deserved honours, 
and tell him I had often my pen in hand to write my own 
congratulations but the ambitious wish to write a long 
letter, and constant interruptions, wrecked this like many 
other good intentions. 

You will have been greatly grieved by Spottiswoode's l 
death. His funeral was a remarkable testimony of the 
widespread sorrow at his loss, felt by men of all ranks 
and occupations from Chancellors of Universities to 
compositors and errand boys, for his loss was as great 
to the poor of London as to the philosophers of Europe. 
1 Pres. Roy. Soc. 


There is nothing comforting to write about the political 
world. The most accomplished, but most crotchety and 
mischievous in practice, o(,prime Ministers goes on leading 
the great Liberal party from one quagmire to another 
and few seem to see that the Anarchists are the only party 
really thriving. I wish your political aspects were more 
cheering in S. Africa. It will be something if you can 
tell us you are yourself well, and Mrs. Gill really in better 
health than when she left us. Give her kindest regards 
from us all, and believe me, my dear Gill, ever very 
sincerely yours, H. B. S. FRERE. 

On October i, 1879, Gill made a report to Sir Bartle 
Frere on the Trigonometrical Survey of South African 
colonies, which was printed officially. It lays down 
general principles of great value by which a general 
triangulation should at the same time become the basis 
of a map for co-ordinating all local surveys made for 
fixing boundaries, and also assist the scientific needs of 
geodesy for determining the size and figure of the earth 
by the measurement of a long arc of meridian. The 
practical suggestions are of the utmost value. 

Gill submitted the scheme to Sir George Airy as the 
most competent critic among his friends. He replied 
on December 7, 1879 

I approve entirely of your general plan and am certain 
that, so far as it is connected with territorial survey, it 
is the only one that can meet all wants. . . . There is 
ten years' work cut out for you. 

Gill's reputation as an astronomer had preceded him, 
and when the leading men there discovered that he was 
prepared to occupy himself with their interests as well as 
his own professional ones, he immediately came to be 
recognized as the man to be consulted, not only upon all 
scientific matters, but also on all questions where a 
sound judgment was wanted for the good of the com- 
munity. He was seized upon to help the museum and 
the Philosophical Society while he was pushing his plans 

i8 7 9] SIR THOMAS FULLER 119 

of survey. So also he was drawn into the vortex of 
education, and came in contact with Mr. Thomas Fuller, 1 
who had been mainly responsible for the foundation of 
the Cape University, and who insisted on the formation 
of a physical laboratory. It was he who selected the 
successor to Sir Langham Dale as Superintendent- 
General of Education ; but his choice was influenced 
by the advice of Gill, who has left the following 

I remember being consulted by Mr. Merriman about 
the appointment of a successor to Sir Langham Dale, 
and I strongly recommended that a Scotsman should be 
appointed, on the ground that the Scottish system of 
education is the one best suited to South Africa, and 
because I thought that I knew men who would be ready 
and willing to give their advice in making a wise choice. 
Mr. Thomas Fuller went home with instructions to make 
the necessary enquiries, and I furnished him with a letter 
of introduction to Lord MacLaren, one of the judges in 
Edinburgh, to whom I wrote, telling him of Mr. Fuller's 
mission, and suggesting that perhaps he could arrange 
that Mr. Fuller should meet Lord Kelvin and Professor 
Chrystal, of Edinburgh, in consultation on the subject. 
They all met at Lord MacLaren's house, and their 
unanimous opinion was that of all men Dr. Muir, of the 
High School of Glasgow, was beyond doubt the best man 
obtainable. Mr. Rhodes, before making the appoint- 
ment, interviewed Dr. Muir, and the result was Dr. 
Muir's selection. 

This proved to be a wise choice, and Sir David Gill 



to that appointment also, and the society of Dr. Muir, 
I, for my part, owe many of the pleasant est hours of my 
life at the Cape. 

It was characteristic of the man, and, doubtless, had 
not a little to do with his increasing influence, that in 

1 Afterwards Sir Thomas Fuller, Agent-General for the Cape 
of Good Hope. 


these matters he had a lively appreciation of witty and 
humorous incidents. He tells us 

In those days the Education Department was under 
Sir Langham Dale, who was afterwards assisted by Mr. 
Donald Ross. In his zeal the latter published a series 
of answers to questions in examinations, some of which 
stick to me still as good stories. At an elementary 
teachers' examination, for example, the question asked 
was, " State what you know about gravity " ; to which 
the answer was, " Gravity is, if you go to the top of a 
hill and jump up, you will come down again. If it was 
not for gravity you would never come down again. We 
ought to be very thankful that there is gravity." 

Another question I remember was : " State what you 
know about the connexion between electricity and 
lightning." The answer was, " Lightning is sometimes 
several miles long, but electricity is never more than 
two or three inches long." Another question was : 
" What place should music occupy in the curriculum of 
a school? " The answer was, " Music should be placed 
in the middle of the room, and taught at eleven o'clock 
on Wednesdays." 

I remember that when Sir Langham Dale came to 
see this portion of the Blue-book he was not entirely 
pleased, and Mr. Donald Ross had a bad quarter of an 

Gill's attitude towards the great surveying operations 
with which he has enriched the world is characteristic 
of all his progresses in astronomical achievement. He 
had the consciousness of a power in him to accomplish 
great things. He felt that this gave him the right to 
demand all possible assistance to that end. And he was 
full of the indomitable energy which compelled support 
to his projects. 

Thus it was that at the very commencement of his 
Cape career he had the active support, in his preliminary 
operations, of Sir Bartle Frere, Sir George Colley, and Sir 
Frederick Richards, followed later by that of Lord 
Milner, Cecil Rhodes, Earl Grey, Sir Charles Mitchell, 


Lord Loch, and all the admirals who ever commanded at 
the Cape station. 

A determined man, too, is, more often than not, 
favoured by what we call luck. It could hardly be fore- 
told or expected at that date that Gill would ever see 
the Orange Free State, the Transvaal and the extensive 
tracts of Rhodesia as integral parts of the British Empire 
through which the measurements for his great arc of 
meridian should pass towards his goal on the Mediter- 
ranean, or that its course in the north would be assisted 
by the hostility of the Mahdi giving into our hands the 
Upper Nile and Lake territories. Through these events 
his original aspirations developed into expectations ; and 
the measured great meridian arc, on 30 east longitude, 
became, as he told us, " the dream of my life." l 

While Gill's highest pleasure arose from doing these 
things himself, he also derived great delight in later life 
in recounting the valuable assistance he received from 
many friends, and also from the officials at the Admiralty, 
who soon discovered that when Gill wanted a thing done 
there was always a very good reason for it. There was 
no one to whom he was more indebted in this way than 
Sir Frederick Richards, who in 1898 became Admiral of 
the Fleet. His first indebtedness has been mentioned, 
his second is told thus 

In October 1880 I visited Natal as the guest of Com- 
modore Richards on his flagship Boadicea, in order to 
make preliminary experiments connected with the 
telegraphic longitude of Aden and Cape Town, and to 
further discuss with Sir George Colley the steps to be 
taken in connexion with the proposed survey. The result 
was that Sir George Colley took immediate steps to for- 
ward the project by addressing a message to the Legis- 
lative Council proposing to place a sum of 2000 on the 
Estimate of 1881, for the initial expense of the proposed 
operation. One of the last documents addressed by 

1 Presidential address, Brit. Assoc., 1907. 


Sir George to the Council was a message of thanks re- 
garding the above proposal, dated December 21, 1880. 
A few days afterwards he left his seat of Government, 
never, alas ! to return. T 

I remember the journey from Durban to Pietermaritz- 
burg. The line was then completed only to Pinetown, 
where we found a transport mule-wagon to convey us 
over the remaining fifty-five miles of our journey. On 
driving into the avenue of Government House, Maritz- 
burg, covered with dust from our journey, we found to our 
horror the lawn in front filled by guests at an afternoon 
party there. " 'Bout ship," said Sir Frederick Richards. 
But it was impossible to " 'Bout ship," so we drove right 
past Government House, through the guests and away 
to our hotel, where we might hide our filthy heads, and 
undergo " alterations and repairs." We spent a quiet 
evening at our hotel, and turned up next day at Govern- 
ment House in more presentable condition. On the last 
evening of our stay, there was a large official dinner 
party at Government House. A few weeks later nearly 
half of those at table were killed [at Majuba Hill] during 
the first Boer war. 

It may be as well to introduce among these memories 
Gill's impressions of Cecil Rhodes as given in later years. 

I remember a good many years ago calling upon him 
in his office one day to ask whether he would be disposed 
to undertake the extension of the Geodetic Survey of 
South Africa through Rhodesia. I pointed out to him 
not only the desirability of starting a systematic survey 
at an early stage in the history of the development of 
his new country, but also the great scientific problem for 
the measurement of the earth to which a notable contribu- 
tion might be made by extending a chain of triangulation 
from the Cape to Cairo. I explained that it Would be an 
invaluable contribution not only to geodesy, but to 
geography, and would form a point of departure for 
connecting together all the surveys of travellers of the 
territories through which that chain would pass, and 
might incidentally serve also as an aid to the survey of 
the great railway scheme which had then started. Mr. 
Rhodes said to me, " Yes, that is a fine scheme a fine 
scheme ; but you must remember that I must first of all 

1879] CECIL RHODES 123 

provide something in the way of roads and bridges to 
facilitate communication, and when we have got so far 
in that direction I will support your survey." Then, 
turning to a map of Africa, he said, " Look here, a man 
requires two things to enable him to do great work in 
the world; these are, first imagination, and next grit. 
The French have got imagination, but we have mostly 
the grit without the imagination. Now look at the French 
what they are doing. They have got some possessions 
here on the West Coast of Africa, and they have got a 
little spot here on the border of the Red Sea, and they have 
got a man l just now going from west to east, and I have 
got an eye upon him, and our grit will stop him getting 
there. To those who have got imagination and grit 
everything will come. Now, good-bye, I won't forget 
my promise." 

He did not forget his promise. It was largely owing to 
him that, when Sir David Gill died, the completion of work 
on the great arc of meridian was almost within sight. 
While Lord Grey was administrator of Rhodesia things 
went on well. When he left, Gill met with difficulties 
in getting over which he had further insight into the 
methods of Cecil Rhodes. When he called and explained 
to him his difficulties, Rhodes turned to his secretary, 
saying, " Take a telegraph form and write : / have 
promised Sir David Gill that I will carry out his Arc of 
Meridian. Tell them to find the money. The rest is all 
red tape." 

After that, Rhodes turned to Gill and said, " Fine thing, 
money." Gill replied, " Finer thing, astronomy," to 
which Rhodes answered, " Too d d expensive." 

There was something of dogged persistence in Rhodes' 
character which appealed to David Gill ; he often visited 
the great man at Groote Schuur, and has told many things 
about his character. He said 

One of the most delightful things about him was his 
joy and delight in the beauty of his surroundings. He 

1 [Colonel Marchand.] 


would sit under his verandah at teatime looking upon 
the great mountain before him, and ask you passionately : 
" Is there anything more beautiful in the whole world ? " 
He would turn upon you suddenly and say, " Did you 
ever realize what a privilege it is to be an Englishman? " 
And, if I mildly suggested that it was better to be a 
Scotsman, he would say, " Ah, man, that is the same 

David Gill's humility, devotion to duty and purity of 
mind are shown in his correspondence by the admiration 
he bestowed upon all the men possessed of these qualities 
who crossed his path. Among those who were resident 
at the Cape in those first years there was none who could 
excite this spirit of admiration more than General Gordon. 
He accepted the command of the colonial forces in South 
Africa in 1882 ; and resigned when his negotiations with 
Masupha, the Basuto chief, were interrupted by the unfair 
attack instigated by Mr. Sauer, secretary for native affairs 
in 1882. 

" Chinese " Gordon used frequently to turn up at the 
observatory for a talk with David Gill in his study, that 
fine large room where visitors were received by him and 
where he did his work and correspondence. On one 
occasion " the wifey " was sent off to fetch a Bible and 
Paradise Lost to enable Gordon to give a proof to Gill 
that he could locate geographically the site of the Garden 
of Eden, illustrated by rough pencil sketches which still 

These two men had a sincere regard for each other, 
and when Gordon came to the observatory to say good-bye 
before leaving the Cape, Gill accompanied him across the 
little grass triangle in front of their door to give him a 
last handgrip. Then, as the hansom drove off, General 
Gordon turned to George Kilgour (a kinsman of Mrs. 
Gill's, who told her afterwards), saying quietly, as he 
jerked his thumb towards Gill, " Of such is the salt of 
the earth." 


In the first year of their life at the Cape the Gills 
firmly established themselves in the affections of their 
own settlement in the observatory and also with the people 
of Cape Town. Mrs. Gill's friendliness, dignity and fun 
captivated the hearts of the colony, and although Mr. 
Gill was a perfect glutton for astronomical work, he held 
that " an astronomer is to be reckoned not merely a man 
of science, but, more or less, a gregarious human being." 
He was not averse from helping other human beings to 
enjoy our glorious world. When leaving England to 
take up his duties at the Cape, the Astronomer Royal's 
last words were, " Promise me, Gill, not to become a 
dress-coat astronomer." Whether or no the advice was 
needed, he followed it, for he seldom dined out more 
than two or three times a year while at the Cape. 
Nevertheless, when social duties did claim him, there was 
no one who could throw himself more heartily into the 
fun of the thing. 

Thus in 1880 or 1881 a Caledonian Society was started 
at Cape Town, of which he became a member. He used 
to enjoy relating how once he assisted a Highland regi- 
ment quartered there to celebrate a certain St. Andrew's 
night. After an excellent dinner in mess, with the time- 
honoured accompaniments, they adjourned, in the small 
hours of the morning, from the barracks to the castle, 
headed by pipers, and began to dance reels in the centre 
of the castle square, baths having been fetched from the 
bedrooms to serve as bass drums to augment the sounds 
of the bagpipes. These proceedings were not conducive 
to the slumbers of the officers quartered in the surrounding 
houses, but, to judge from the faces peeping from behind 
blinds, were not without interest to the lady members of 
their families. The next morning Colonel Bruce received 
a savage message from General Leicester- Smyth (then 
commanding the forces in South Africa) animadverting 
strongly upon the barbarous customs of his countrymen, 
and conveying an official reproof for their unseemly con- 


duct, a reproof which was not received by the assembled 
officers entirely in a spirit of correction, for an irrepressible 
laugh was the chief result^ 

As to the Caledonian Society, of which, later, he became 
President, he always averred that their dinners were 
decorous, " though jovial within reasonable limits." 
After one of these dinners, when returning home at a 
reasonable and seemly hour, he encountered, in the rail- 
way station, Sir Thomas Upington, who had been presiding 
over a dinner of a different society called the Cape Town 
Highlanders; and who administered a severe reproof to 
his friend in the words, " Gill, you're beastly sober." 

The astronomer's keen enjoyment of all forms of sport, 
in season, brought him closely in touch with every one. 
He used to tell of an extraordinary scene on the occasion 
of a great cricket match against an English team in 1895, 
which brought all Cape Town to the Kenilworth cricket 
ground, even the banks being closed for the occasion. 
The game had reached an exciting stage, when telegraph 
boys began to appear, one after another, delivering 
messages to the Cabinet Ministers, and others, to the 
effect that Jameson had crossed the border. As he told 
the story the double excitement was extraordinary. A 
man would be applauding a good hit or clever catch, 
and next moment receive a telegram of vital importance. 
He would gather his friends round him and gravely talk 
the momentous matter over, and next moment would 
turn to applaud another hit or another catch. 



Inadequate equipment Gill buys a heliometer Elkin Star 
distances Sir Thomas Maclear Comet of 1882 Photo- 
graphic star charting Airy's retirement. 

GILL'S joy in his new appointment would have been 
greater if the observatory had contained even a single 
instrument of any kind fitted for carrying out the refined 
measurements which he had looked forward to as his 
peculiar province for advancing astronomy. 

His splendid History and Description of the Cape 
Observatory has told astronomers of the wretched equip- 
ment. Instead of despairing, he set to work to make the 
best use of the means at his disposal, and to insist upon 
the necessity for first-class instruments of precision. 

After the first year he sent to the Admiralty his " Report 
of Her Majesty's Astronomer at the Cape for the year 
1879-80." This report has been lost in the Admiralty 
Archives, but is frequently referred to in the corre- 
spondence preserved at the Admiralty. 

Sir George Airy's " Notes " upon it are preserved. 
They are in Airy's handwriting, and give his strong sup- 
port to almost every paragraph. Speaking of Gill's dis- 
covery of a difference in personal equation according as 
a star transits from right to left, or from left to right, 
Airy says : " The inferences drawn here are remark- 
able, and will probably be recognized as valuable." He 
applauds the fine work on occultations. He concludes 



I have passed over many paragraphs explanatory of 
what has been done under Mr. Gill's direction or by 
himself personally, all bearing evidence of the vigour 
with which the work of the Cape Observatory has been 
carried on. I regard the Report as honourable to Mr. 

Sir George Airy's world-reputation enabled him to 
adopt this helpful patronizing tone without giving the 
slightest offence. No lesser man could have done so, for 
the Cape Observatory was not officially under his control. 

David Gill soon proved himself to be different from all 
his predecessors in having the dogged persistence and 
force of character required for overcoming official inertia 
at home, and for raising the status and equipment of the 
observatory to the very high level demanded by its 
unique position of importance for the southern heavens. 
These qualities, combined with honesty of purpose, 
deference to Admiralty authority, and a cheerful devotion 
to duty, ensured his ultimate success. 

His dogged persistence even in small matters became 
proverbial, and in this connexion a tale of the Admiralty 
may here be told. 

There was at one time a carpenter attached to the 
observatory, and the distance of his house from his work 
interfered with his usefulness. In one of the reports to 
the Admiralty, Gill asked that a carpenter's cottage 
should be built on the grounds, and his request was 
refused. Every year after this, the request was repeated 
in stronger terms. At last the First Lord, or other high 
authority, exclaimed, with a laugh, " For goodness' sake 
let Gill have a carpenter's cottage, or we shall never have 

Thus, in the course of twenty-eight years, he gradually 
transformed the small collection of poor instruments in a 
wilderness into the present magnificent observatory in 
lovely grounds with instruments of precision unsurpassed 
in any quarter of the world. The history of all this, so 


far as it is told in his great book, need not be repeated 

At this period Sir George Airy and David Gill always 
worked hand in hand, with singleness of purpose to 
advance astronomy. 

On June 19, 1879, Gill wrote to Airy a very long and 
amusing account of the horrible condition in which he 
found the observatory, asking for his help with the 
Admiralty to set things right, and explaining the steps 
that he was taking to improve matters. Four weeks 
later he writes 



1879, July 14. 

DEAR SIR GEORGE, I hope you received my last letter. 
The Observatory is now reduced to a tolerable state of 
cleanliness and order. [The letter proceeds to tell what 
he has been doing.] All things go well so far as discipline 
and progress of work are concerned. . . . We enjoy most 
excellent health, my wife particularly is greatly benefited 
by the climate. Indeed I can conceive nothing more 
charming than the weather just now. The winter of 
South Africa seems to me far finer than that of Egypt. 
Perhaps we shall have another tale to tell in summer, or 
after we have encountered some of the " south-easters " 
of which we have heard so much and seen so little. 

Meanwhile Mrs. Gill desires to unite with me in kindest 
remembrances to yourself and all your family circle. 

Believe me, sincerely yours, DAVID GILL. 

Airy, in his reply of August 12, 1879, concludes with a 
droll allusion to the hot weather. 

Pray give my best respects to Mrs. Gill. I am glad to 
hear she enjoys the climate thus far. It is, however, hot 
in summer. Sir John Herschel cooked Irish stews by 
solar radiation. I am, my dear Sir, yours very truly, 

G. B. AIRY. 

Sir George's fears were only too soon realized. The 
very first hot weather affected Mrs. Gill's health, and 
afterwards was always a source of anxiety. Her need to 


recruit in England so soon as 1880 was a blow to her 

Nor was this the only sorrow during the early days at 
the Cape. 



1879, July 14. 

MY DEAR SIR GEORGE, I write to tell you that Sir 
Thomas Maclear died this morning. He has been con- 
fined to bed since the time of my arrival in the Colony, 
but it is only in the last fortnight that his friends thought 
him to be dangerously ill. 

I have seen him three times. On the two last occasions 
he was very weak but full of pluck, and declared that he 
was quite well. The first time I saw him he was full of 
anecdote and fun, and his intellect was as clear and fresh 
as possible. 

He impressed me as a man who must have been full of 
restless energy, a man of many sympathies, full of hearti- 
ness, and full of his work too. His observing books 
bespeak the man. There is a scrupulous care about the 
notes, a constant personal attention to every detail, and 
an amount of personal labour in observing which few men 
have equalled. 

One constantly finds that he has been at work till 
daybreak. He seems to have been impressed with the 
idea that there was an enormous amount of work to be 
done, and that he would do it and to have forgotten 
that till it was published it was not done. 

Still, there the work remains, and is available for 
reduction and publication, and I hope I shall be able to 
produce much valuable metal from the ore which Maclear 
has collected. 

Sir Thomas is universally respected and loved in the 
Colony. We bury him on Wednesday, beside his wife in 
the Observatory Grounds, near the spot where Fallowes 



1880, January g. 

MY DEAR LORD CRAWFORD, It is with deep regret that 
I have read the announcement of your father's death. 

1879-82] LORD CRAWFORD 131 

I hope you will allow me to express my sympathy with 
you in your great loss, for I have known you too long and 
too well not to understand how keenly you will feel this 
bereavement, and that no consideration of change in your 
future position and life can make up to you for him that 
is gone. 

I think of Lord Crawford as one of the most truly 
estimable men I ever met so kind, so gentle and so 
cultured, so strong and determined in the right. 

It would be mere presumption on my part to say more ; 
I hope you will forgive my saying what I have said. But 
it is not always intimacy or even frequency of meeting 
that causes another to influence one's life. To Lord 
Crawford and to you I owe my emancipation from uncon- 
genial work, to his clear foresight I owe the overcoming 
of countless difficulties afterwards and thus, though our 
spheres of life have been totally different, and though we 
have but seldom met, I feel that Lord Crawford has much 
influenced my life, and that his influence was ever for 

Such are my excuses for intruding my sympathy upon 
you just now. I trust you will accept both the one and 
the other ; and that, after time has healed the wound you 
feel so keenly now, you will long be spared to discharge 
the many important duties that now devolve upon you. 
Believe me, sincerely yours, DAVID GILL. 

Sir David Gill's official life and work at the Cape is 
naturally divided into periods by his occasional visits to 
England, especially those of 1884, 1887, 1896, and igoo. 1 

Naturally, during the first of these periods, from 1879 
to 1884, the seeds were sown that bore fruit later. There 
were plenty of plans to make, plenty of observations and 
reductions to carry on from day to day. 

His favourite instrument of precision was still the 
heliometer. But a powerful telescope seemed to him 
almost a necessity, if only for micrometrical measure- 
ments to give the distances of the stars. This was the 
most difficult and refined kind of observation known 
to astronomers; full of pitfalls for the unwary, and 
1 Other visits home were in 1891, 1893, 1904. 


therefore it seemed to him the most worthy of his 

He had never" lost touch with Mr. Newall, and the 
magnificent 25-inch refractor offered him on loan. And 
when last at Strassburg he had found an enthusiastic 
young American student who offered, to join him in 
measuring stellar distances. 



1879, June 21. 

DEAR MR. ELKIN, I ought to have written you some 
time ago on the subject of the Newall telescope, in order 
to give you some idea regarding it, and to enable you to 
judge how far it will suit you to put into execution the 
plan we talked of, viz. your coming to the Cape of Good 
Hope to assist in the work to be done with that instrument 
in the event of its being erected for work there. . . . 

The actual steps which are accomplished facts are 

1. Mr. Newall permits the loan of the Instrument for 
seven years at least, the only condition being that it shall 
be under my direction. 

2. Mr. Nasmyth promises 1000 towards the expenses. 

3. Mr. Siemens promises 250. 

4. Mr. De la Rue says he is prepared not to let the 
matter stop for want of money that he will take the 
responsibility of money matters on his shoulders. 

5. Mr. Spottiswoode (President of the Royal Society, 
and of the British Association) promises to support an 
application, with every prospect of success, for 150 per 
annum from each of these bodies 

Believe me, sincerely yours, DAVID GILL. 

In spite of this generous support, it was felt in England 
that the loan of an instrument was not a right solution, 
and a proposal that the Admiralty should purchase such 
an instrument was fully discussed. There is a long 
report by Airy which, by request of the Admiralty, he 
wrote out. It is a strongly worded note, expressing the 
opinion that Mr. Gill ought to be supplied with such a 
telescope. But the Admiralty came to the conclusion 
" that the time was not ripe for such an extension of the 

1879-82] INSTRUMENTS 133 

functions of the observatory as would be involved by the 
purchase of such an instrument." 

Airy was disappointed, but tried to cheer up Mr. Gill. 
He even congratulated him upon this decision, as it 
would give him more time to continue his valuable 
surveys. Parts of the reply to his letter are quite 



1880, January 20. 

MY DEAR SIR GEORGE, In reply to your letter of 
Dec. 7, I am glad that you approve of my general scheme 
for the survey. . . . 

I do not at all agree with you, however, as to the good 
fortune which befell me in the failure of the 25-Inch 
Equatoreal scheme. Our present Equatoreal is really fit 
for nothing but observing occultations of stars by the 
moon and phenomena of Jupiter's satellites. . . . 

I do not propose to extend the labour engagements I 
have undertaken, detailed by you in your letter of 
December 7. I only think that the work under heads 
2 and 3 should be executed with good tools and not with 
a practically obsolete instrument. I do not, however, 
propose to push the matter of the equatoreal till I have 
been able to show that we really want it, and that we are 
doing good work that deserves encouragement, and then 
I hope to get an instrument worthy of the observatory 
and of the situation. . . . 

With kindest regards to your family circle, in which^ 
Mrs. Gill desires to join me, 

Believe me, sincerely yours, DAVID GILL. 

Before leaving England, however, he had prepared the 
way for measuring some star distances, using the old 
instrument which had served him so well in the past, as 
shown in the following letter of earlier date. 



1879, October 13. 

DEAR SIR GEORGE, By the same mail with this I have 
written to the Secretary to the Admiralty requesting that 


their Lordships may be good enough to provide transport 
for my Heliometer to the Cape. 

I purchased the HeliojGaeter part proper from Lord 
Lindsay, and have had : a very firm and satisfactory 
Equatoreal mounting made for it by Grubb of Dublin, at 
my own expense, with clockwork complete. I propose 
to erect the Instrument in place of the' old, and now de- 
cayed, 3-inch Equatoreal, and devote it chiefly to parallax 
investigations. From the experience I have had in the 
use of the Instrument, and the opportunities in the 
Southern Hemisphere, I think very valuable results might 
be obtained. 

I have no doubt the matter will be referred to you, and 
I hope you will kindly support my proposal. 

All is going well. I will write you soon on the progress 
we are making. 

With kindest regards to yourself and your family circle, 
in which Mrs. Gill unites with me, 

Believe me, sincerely yours, DAVID GILL. 

Accordingly, the dearly loved heliometer arrived in 
December 1880 ; and, the next month, his young friend 
Elkin, the Strassburg student, paid him a visit lasting 
till May 1883, two years and four months. Thus began 
the first systematic attack ever undertaken upon star 
distances; and the splendid results obtained by Gill and 
Elkin are well known to all astronomers. 

The history of astronomy is full of examples where 
fortune has seemed to favour the brave, or rather where 
success has bred success ; where at least it might be said 
that a piece of luck came to those w r ho deserved it. Thus 
did Sir William Herschel discover the orbital motions of 
double stars when attempting to measure their distances ; 
and Bradley the constant of aberration. The society 
founded to search for a planet between Mars and Jupiter 
had no success, but Piazzi, when laboriously charting the 
stars in 1801, accidentally discovered the first minor 

So also, during Mr. Gill's first period (1879-84) at the 
Cape, an event occurred which enabled him to originate 

1879-82] COMET OF 1882 135 

a new kind of astronomical observation, the systematic 
charting and cataloguing of the stellar heavens by aid of 

In 1882 a brilliant comet appeared in the southern 
heavens so brilliant as to be seen in full sunlight, even 
when it seemed to reach the sun's edge. While it was 
still a magnificent spectacle in the hours before dawn, 
wishing his friends in England to share his joy, the idea 
occurred to him to strap an ordinary portrait camera to 
the clock-driven equatoreal. This enabled him to follow 
the comet and to expose the plate for hours, always 
keeping the cross- wires of the telescope on the comet's 
head. Sometimes also he kept them always on one of 
the stars. 

The results were a revelation to him and to all who 
afterwards saw the photographs. In his History, etc., 
he has told how he was immediately convinced of the 
possibility of thus constructing star maps on any required 
scale, down to any required order of magnitude. The 
large field, giving sharp definition, led him to expect 
better work from the doublet portrait lens than from a 
telescope. He immediately wrote to Dallmeyer for a 
larger lens, to test the idea, and found it gave fine results. 
He obtained a photographer from England by a grant 
from the Royal Society, and, assisted by funds from 
Mr. Nasmyth and from his own pocket, set up an efficient 
apparatus to photograph and to catalogue all southern 
stars down to the 9! magnitude. Thus he was able to 
extend the most useful existing star-catalogue-of-identifi- 
cation, viz. the Bonn Durchmusterung of Argelander and 
Schonfeldt, right on to the South Pole, in the " Cape 
Photographic Durchmusterung " (C. P. D.). 

The progress of this has been fully told in other publica- 
tions. Isolated photographs of star groups had, before 
1882, been taken by Rutherford, though it was later that 
Bauer and others measured them (e. g. to find the parallax 
of [j, Cassiopeiae). Gould, too, had made isolated star 


pictures at Cordova. Gill was the first to use photography 
for star charting. 

Gill's comet picture with its multitude of stars con- 
vinced the brothers Henry of Paris Observatory that 
their catalogue of zodiacal stars could best be completed 
by photography. They then constructed the first of 
those 13-inch astrographic telescopes which have been 
used all over the world for the International Carte du 
del, started by Admiral Mouchez, with the help of Gill 
and the brothers Henry, at the Congress of Paris in 

These were some of the results of Gill's accidental 
discovery. It also led Dr. Barnard at the Lick Observa- 
tory to strap a portrait camera to the equatoreal, and, 
by eye-correction of the driving-clock, to produce, with 
the most exhausting patience, those marvellous pictures 
of the Milky Way which have added so much to our 

At about this date, in 1881, British astronomy, and 
the Cape Observatory, suffered a terrible loss by the 
retirement of " dear old Airy " (as Otto Struve and other 
intimates spoke of him in their letters) from the post of 
Astronomer Royal. There were no young men in England 
of the Airy and Adams type. Sir William Huggins has 
truly remarked (see p. 49) that such young men, who 
might have continued the succession of these earnest, 
unselfish devotees to astronomy of precision, had wan- 
dered into the more promising realms of physical research. 
All the younger British astronomers admitted that among 
themselves there had as yet appeared no Halley or 
Bradley or Airy to represent British astronomy at 
Greenwich. Still, astronomers hoped that Airy's organ- 
ized and systematic methods might still suffice to main- 
tain something of the continuity of observation and 
reduction which was an outstanding characteristic of 
Greenwich Observatory. 

Mr. Gill had not yet established his exceptional capacity 

1879-82] AIRY'S RETIREMENT 137 

for conducting the routine of an observatory, and his 
present duty clearly held him at the Cape. The post 
was given to Sir George Airy's chief assistant, Mr. 
W. H. M. Christie. 

Meanwhile, Airy's interest in the labours of his astro- 
nomical friends continued unabated; and those who 
retain affection for his memory will enjoy, in the following 
letter, traces of the inner man that were not shown to the 
world at large. 




1883, June 2. 

MY DEAR SIR, Thank you much for the photographs 
of the Comet b of 1882, which reached me in a single 
packet two or three days ago having been preceded by 
one enclosed in a Cape publication. 

I am surprised at the accuracy of the photographs, 
with the long exposure which I understand you to 
have given. For, first, the sidereal objects, the clock- 
movement must have been exceedingly accurate. And, 
secondly, the comet, it must have been almost stationary 
in the heavens (I have not looked to numbers connected 
with the comet's place), as your times of exposure ex- 
tended from 30 m. to I h. 50 m. and 2 h. 20 m. I saw 
the tail of Donati's Comet sweep across Arcturus. I 
have no record of the time occupied, but it was certainly 
less than some of these. 

I shall be glad at all times to hear of your daily pro- 
ceedings, private and official. I see all that appears in 
the Monthly Notices and in the Observatory. But I do 
not go to London or into society ; and even when friends 
call on me, my increasing deafness deprives me of much 
that I might be supposed to receive from them. It had 
been my wish to retire from the Observatory in the 
summer of 1880, but the old Transit of Venus was still 
hanging over me. My part was cleared off in the summer 
of 1881, and then I took my opportunity. It was time 
to do so, for my powers of endurance of official work 
were sensibly diminishing. Moreover, my retirement has 
enabled me to take up some private astronomy from 


which I had long been blocked out. And it was curious 
that after looking at numerous houses on all sides of 
London, I at last founds the most convenient of all (for 
my wants) in this house, the very nearest of all to the 
Observatory, and with a gate of the Park immediately 
opposite, at a distance of about five yards, to one of my 

The work of this Transit of Venus [1882] will be a trifle 
compared with that of 1874. I was obliged then to fix 
upon dreadfully almost unapproachable places with no 
means for longitude except the most laborious. 

I beg you to offer my sincere respect to Mrs. Gill. I 
and my daughters will be glad to hear of her. I am, my 
dear Sir, yours very truly, G. B. AIRY. 

David Gill, Esqre. 

It may be well, at this stage, to forestall events and to 
insert a selection of a few letters from those retained by 
Sir George, placed at the disposal of the present writer 
by his son, Mr. Wilfrid Airy. 



1883, December 18. 

MY DEAR SIR GEORGE, ... I have now after four 
years' work arrived at a pretty clear notion of what I can 
accomplish, and of what I want. [Here follow details of 
a proposed systematic research on the parallax of stars 
down to the fifth magnitude, sixteen of each magnitude- 
interval, and of sixteen stars of large proper motion.] 

I am willing to give up my rest at night for the next 
ten or twelve years for this work (and to do the work with 
my own hands) if Government will give me the necessary 
means a 7-Inch Heliometer. . . . 



1884, August i. 

MY DEAR SIR GEORGE, To-morrow we leave for 
London sailing thence on Aug. 20 for the Cape. 

Herewith I send you photograph of my portrait 

[To face page 138. 

1879-82] SIR GEORGE AIRY 139 

painted by my friend Sir George Reid and especially 
beg that you will remark the bundle of papers on the 
table duly punched with your machine, and duly bound 
with boot-laces after your manner. 1 We hope to have 
the pleasure of seeing you again before we sail. 

Our friend Christie has probably told you that the 
Admiralty has granted me 2700 for a new Heliometer 
and its observatory. . . . 

This correspondence with Airy may well conclude with 
a much later letter. 

(on his ninetieth birthday) 


1891, July 25. 

MY DEAR SIR GEORGE, I must write a word of fare- 
well, to say once again how deeply my wife and I regret 
that we cannot be with your birthday party to-day. 

Our leave has expired, and as your friends assemble 
we shall be sailing for the Cape. But we shall be with 
you in spirit, and drink on board a hearty toast to your 
continued health and happiness coupled with the wish 
that you may see as many happy returns of y r birthday 
as you and yours desire. 

In grateful remembrance of our always happy relations 
both private and official, and with love and honour, 
Believe me, always sincerely yours, DAVID GILL. 

1 [This portrait is reproduced in the frontispiece. Later oil- 
paintings of Sir David Gill are in the Royal Society (by Mr. 
George Henry) and in the Russian Imperial Observatory, 



Elkin Survey Sir William Morris Gordon Duff Theatricals 
Stellar parallax Christie Simon Newcomb Astro- 
nomical ideals. 

IN the meantime the Gills had welcomed astronomers 
en route for their stations to observe the Transit of Venus 
on December 6, 1882. Among these was Professor 
Newcomb from Washington, U.S.A., destined to become 
the foremost of theoretical astronomers. The renewed 
intercourse of these two representatives of astronomy, on 
its theoretical and practical sides respectively, was of 
great value to the science. It increased their intimacy. 
Each saw what great help he could get from the other. 
Gill always obtained much useful information from 
Newcomb about the progress of his planetary tables, 
etc., while he undertook in return to supply him with 
planetary data and lunar occultations whose accuracy 
would be the highest possible. From this date onwards 
the correspondence between these two reached formidable 

Elkin left the Cape of Good Hope in May 1883, having 
helped Mr. Gill in splendid work on stellar parallaxes 
with the heliometer, and for a time the house seemed to 
be deserted. He had been such a welcome guest that 
his presence was sadly missed. 



1883, June 5. 

MY DEAR ELKIN, It is too bad that I have allowed 
two mails to pass without writing you. Not that I have 


1883-4] ELKIN 141 

not thought of you I have missed you badly as I 
wrote Gould, it was like having a tooth drawn, and I 
would gladly give my soundest grinder to see you opposite 
me as I write. 

I duly received y r welcome telegram from Madeira. 
My wife and I had been at a Shakespere reading at Mrs. 
Dyce's, and when we came home I turned into my room 
for something, when I heard excited sounds " David 
what's this? a letter! David, it's from Madeira!" 
Many were the blessings showered on your head. We 
are now anxiously expecting your news in detail from 
St. Helena. 

Captain Morris and the party of R. Engineers come 
on Wednesday or Thursday by the Pretoria. Morris will 
be here for a few weeks making necessary arrangements 
with me and doing a little practical astronomy and then 
I think I shall go up to Natal and start the Base Line 
the preliminary surveys being meanwhile made by Lieut. 
Laffan and his men. 

We are making great preparations for a photographic 
campaign. The Photo house is being put in fine order. . . . 

My wife is much better and I hope to take her to 
Natal with me for a change. Everybody desires to be 
remembered to you. My wife sends her love, and has 
written to y r Mother letter enclosed. 

I am waiting very anxiously for all your news. 

Believe me, dear Elkin, Always y r Sincere friend, 



1883, August 12. 

MY DEAR ELKIN, I was delighted on my return from 
Natal a fortnight ago to find your long and welcome 
letter waiting me. I will tell you of my own doings 
before going into the matters suggested by your letter. 

Capt. Morris and his wife arrived here about nine weeks 
ago. They spent a fortnight with us. Morris is a very 
fine fellow, earnest, energetic, and full of enthusiasm. 
He brought out the i8-inch Alt. Az. for the survey, of 
which you have seen the photograph. It is truly a splendid 
instrument. . . . The watch telescope is a powerful adjunct. 


. . . Every evening so soon as it was dark I took a set 
of the faint a Centauri pair with the Heliometer, Morris 
smoking and booking. Then we dined, and then went off 
to the Theodolite and observed azimuths for practice till 
ten or eleven o'clock. Then a smoke, then off to the 
Heliometer for another set of the faint a Centauri's. 
I send you the results. We had a good deal of cloudy 
weather, but I lost no chance. After a fortnight of this 
we started for Natal, had a beautiful passage and arrived 
safely. Then we had a busy week or ten days in Durban, 
getting tripods made for the Base Apparatus, and a 
thousand and one odds and ends together. Then off to 
Pietermaritzburg. There we had to buy wagons, get 
tents made, buy horses, oxen, and supplies of all kinds, 
and start on the definitive selection of the base. We got 
a capital 2j mile base and an almost theoretically 
perfect series of stations for extending to the first 30 
mile side. We have also with a map, and with local 
enquiries and information from the Surveyor General's 
office, practically planned the triangulation of Natal, and 
have sent a young fellow (son of Colonel Hassard) with 
a sapper, to test finally whether all the necessary stations 
are mutually visible. 

It does not take long to tell this, but it took a fortnight 
of very hard work to do it. 

Then we got the Camp in order, got out the Base 
Apparatus, set up a trial line, and began the drill for 
working the Base Apparatus. We got this all into good 
working order, and I kept them busy pegging and clearing 
the line, laying down the terminals and preparing for real 
measurements. I could not afford to stay longer, but I 
feel sure I left all in good hands and with every prospect 
of a successful issue. Morris will come here with the 
Bars in December when we shall compare them with the 
standard Bars, and I shall then take home one of the 
standards for comparison in England. 

We lived a week at an hotel, then my wife went to the 
Gordon Duffs 1 for a week, a visit she immensely enjoyed, 
and for the remaining fortnight we had our headquarters 
at Government House, and found Sir Henry Bulwer a 
very kind host. Then we spent a couple of days with 

1 Mrs. Duff was a very dear friend of Mrs. Gill's. Her husband 
is an Aberdeenshire laird. They were in Natal for Mrs. Duff's 

i88 3 -4l MRS. GORDON DUFF 143 

the Bayntons at Durban. Nelson has really a charming 
little observatory, and his equatoreal after some little 
alterations is really a very nice instrument. . . . 

We had a most abominable passage back, my wife 
more or less sick for five days, excepting a few hours on 
shore at Port Elizabeth. On the whole, however, my 
wife is greatly benefited by her trip, and I am in every 
way satisfied with it. By the bye, she wrote you last 
mail. I only wish to add my thanks to hers for all your 
great kindness to Bessie [his sister-in-law], kindness we 
shall never forget. 

I am sorry that you did not see Christie or Hind. . . . 
I am very glad you have made some more London astro- 
nomical friends, and hope to have your opinion of the 
Oxford Heliometer and of Common's telescope. . . . 

Give my kind remembrances to your Mother and 
Believe me Always your sincere friend, DAVID GILL. 



1883, September 17. 

MY DEAR MRS. DUFF, Not a mail has passed since my 
return to the Cape without creating the intention to 
write you. Now for Mrs. Duff says inclination yes, 
says duty, but just clear off this bit of work first. But 
bits of astronomical work have a universal habit of 
taking more time than the most unsanguine man expects, 
and so before that special bit of work is done another 
English mail arrives, and the Natal mail is off, and 
Mrs. Duff's letter waits for the next " bit " with a like 

In fact these good intentions, with which a very 
unmentionable place is supposed to be paved, have been 
very prevalent with me of late and I should think that 
Auld Clootie's hottest corner is in pretty good travelling 
order within the past six weeks from my work alone. 
But this time the bit of work shall wait. 

What a bright happy visit we had with you ! My 
little wife has never been so well since October '79 those 
happy quiet evenings with you we shall not forget for 
many a day. 


I often picture you and your sister together for I 
seem to know Mrs. Graham Smith from her letters I 
wonder if I do ? -^Something very earnest about her like 
Dorothea in Middleware!?, and something of the pithy 
sparkling character of Jane Carlyle. Have you read the 
latter's letters ? if not, do so. 

Just now I am observing from 7 to. 9 in the evening 
and 3 to 5 in the morning, so at 9 o'clock my long pipe 
is filled and my wifie reads these letters to me. Oh the 
sparkle and fun of them when all is well the marrow- 
full, earnest stuff the brilliant description and, shall 
I say it? the delightful touch of occasional deviltry 
sometimes how you and y r sister w 4 enjoy them 
together ! 

And what are you doing? How finds y r sister, 
Natal? Can her deft brush find anything to do, and is 
there much to tell in her vigorous charming way to those 
at home ? Above all, I hope that y r next news of y r self 
will be bright as that you have sent. 

For ourselves Wifie is not quite so well the gain from 
Natal is not lost, but she has now and then a good deal 
of pain. . . . 

By the bye, y r sister goes in for Astronomy, so she will 
be interested to hear that Sirius is not so far off as she 
has been taught to suppose; that it has a parallax of 
o"*38 in other words that light which takes 8 minutes 
to come from the sun, would reach Sirius in only 9 years 
instead of 30 years as I suppose she has read. 

Baron Hubner lunched here one day. When we spoke 
of " you two" he held up his hands and said, " Aaahhh 
charrrming " with a deep inspired " Ah " that no 
letters can convey, and an amount of R that no Aber- 
donian could rival. I met him also at dinner at Mrs. 
Koopman's. . . . 

Now my cigar and my paper are done. My wifie sends 
her love and I kiss my hand as of old. 

Believe me Y r sincere friend, DAVID GILL. 

Shortly before the astronomer went to England on his 
first furlough, in January 1884, he had staying with him 
the head of his Natal survey, Captain (now Colonel Sir 
William) Morris, R.E. His great appreciation of the 
man, apart from his professional capacity, can best be 


understood by extracts from a letter, dated January 14, 
1884, to Mr. Gordon Duff. 

Morris has been with us for the past month. He is a 
very splendid fellow as high souled, pure minded a man 
as I ever met full of work and full of earnestness, and 
fun too. 

I must not omit to tell you that my wife sends Mrs. 
Carlyle's letters by Morris and do not omit to address 
Morris as " Prince Geraint." Amongst all our work we 
found time for one evening's fooling in the way of 
' Tableaux " at Mrs. Trimen's (newly married wife of 
Trimen, Curator of Museum). 

Morris was Geraint, Miss Ebden Enid, and I the Count 

Geraint is just recovering from his faint, I trying to 
force Enid to drink, Geraint observes my brutality and 
is on the point of springing up to chop off my head 
retainers, men and women, jeering at Enid. Morris was 
coaxed by Mrs. Trimen, Miss Ebden and my wife till 
driven by despair he said in a weak moment, " Do with 
me as you please." Whereupon the ladies set about 
equipping him in scale armour and red hose. This re- 
duced Morris to despair he went about deploring his 
fate " Fancy me in scaly armour and red hose!" 
They let him off the scaly armour, but draped him in a 
doublet and tunic, retaining the red hose, and he cer- 
tainly made a very fair appearance he is as good-looking 
as he is good. Our " Spectacle " was the first and so 
we clothed ourselves in more conventional garments and 
watched two other scenes from Tennyson and four 
Tableaux from the Odyssey, " Penelope and her sisters " 
and the return of Ulysses. All very nice, but to my 
mind the fun of the fair was all beforehand the ridicu- 
lous figures of half draped early Britons and classic ladies 
beards suitable and unsuitable coming off and going 
away and specially of a gallant Captain who came to 
rehearsal and brought his classic tunic but forgot his 
drawers was asked to draw down a window, and in his 
hurry to oblige jumped on the sill, suddenly remembered 
his missing garment and the probable consequences, 


blushed scarlet, jumped down and rushed from the 

But Morris and his performances here, with his red 
hose, and his tunic turned into a skirt, doing a ballet 
whenever any attempt was made to " fit " him, make 
me still roar with laughter when I think of it. 

What a lot of rubbish to tell you ! It's bed time now, 

Naturally enough, during this first period of residence 
at the Cape (1879-84) his letters to friends at home were 
full of his astronomical work, and were much taken up 
with the parallax of the stars. 



1882, April 17. 

MY DEAR KNOBEL, Many thanks for your kind letter 
of Feb. 1 8 and its cordial congratulations. 

I need not tell you that I am much gratified by re- 
ceiving the Gold Medal, and I like it so much that I mean 
to try and win another. 

Now let me congratulate you with all my heart on your 
election as a Secretary of the Society. 1 . . . 

I am busy organizing the observations 2 of Victoria 
and Sappho in July, Aug* and Sept. . . . 

We are busy reducing the longitude work. It is a long 
job as the places of the Time Stars had all to be deter- 
mined, as well as those of the Circumpolar Stars. 

I have to-day sent to press a Catalogue of Circumpolar 
Stars (88 in number) which I propose to issue in a fort- 
night for the use of the Transit of Venus observers in the 
Southern Hemisphere. 

Probably the most generally interesting researches 
which I have that are approaching completion are those 
on the parallax of some Southern Stars. Elkin has com- 
puted his observations of Sirius, which go to show that 

1 [Royal Astronomical Society, of which Mr. Knobel was 
Secretary for ten years and afterwards President twice.] 

2 These came to no good end owing to defects in instruments 
in the northern hemisphere with which comparisons were to be 
made. Cf. letter to Kapteyn, November 20, 1893. 

1 88 3 - 4 ] STELLAR PARALLAXES 147 

the generally accepted parallax of this star is much too 
small, and that the mass of Sirius (from Auwers' elements 
of its orbit as a double star combined with the parallax 
found by Elkin) is really less than that of the Sun. 

My own researches on the same parallax, with different 
comparison stars, will not be concluded till the beginning 
of next year. . . . 

The whole of Elkin 's work combined with mine is 
greater in extent than all the existing parallax deter- 
minations put together. Every clear night we manage 
to get about 4 hours' work each, so that even at 
Ascension the old Heliometer never had such hard work 

Mrs. Gill is better than she was when in England, tho' 
still an invalid, and unable for more than a quiet walk 
through the Observatory grounds. 

Believe me, sincerely y 15 , DAVID GILL. 



1882, October 25. 

MY DEAR CHRISTIE, I do hope you are well. I have 
been wondering much at not hearing from you. Nothing 
in the shape of news from you since your marriage ! I 
was particularly anxious to hear from you about the 
R.S. We are very busy here about the Transit. Perry 
and Sidgreaves are off to Madagascar. They were put in 
quarantine at Durban, but I had heliostat flashes sent 
to them by Mr. Pett at Durban which have answered 
capitally. . . . 

I expect Newcomb to-day or to-morrow, and Marth in 
a week. 

We have of course been busy with the Great Comet, 
and Finlay and Elkin have got a great number of ob- 
servations. I could not do much till after the Sappho 
observations were over, which tied my hands till Oct. 18. 
I send you, however, some photos which I got Oct. 19, 
20 and 21. 


I see that Barnard's Comet is in my hunting grounds 

* *.-,*..* * * 

But with two comets, four Transit of Venus stations, 
with which I shall have more or less to do, my own 
Heliometer stellar parallax work, and normal observatory 
work, and my two chief assistants gone and one an 
invalid my days will not be idle till the end of the year. 

* * * * * * 

I am happy to say that my wife has been much better 
during the past fortnight and this makes hard work 
very easy. 

What a pity you did not get my telegram of Sept. 9 ! ! ! 
You would probably have seen the transit of the Comet, 
or at least it would have been seen in America nearly at 
noon with big telescopes. 

My wife joins me in kind regards to Mrs. C. and y r self. 

Always sincerely Y re , DAVID GILL. 

As we approach the end of Gill's first period of five 
years' continuous residence in South Africa, it must be 
noticed that these years influenced him a great deal, by 
giving scope to his character, but most of all by the 
growing friendships with those men in his own line whom 
he most respected, friendships which commenced with 
mutual esteem, but deepened into affectionate regard. 

This fullness of life in regard to the master impulse of 
his being, his love for astronomy, reached a climax at 
the time of the transit of Venus in 1882, when David 
Gill and Simon Newcomb first became intimately asso- 
ciated together, and when each found in the other the 
counterpart of his own labours. They had first met at 
Hamburg, in 1873. Newcomb had, even by this time, 
reached almost the highest position among the theo- 
retical astronomers of the world; and, in the matter 
of uncompromising exactitude of observation, he found 
in Gill the complement to his own activities. Gill, on 
the other hand, found in Newcomb the man who had 
himself done so much for existing problems in astronomy 

1883-4] SIMON NEWCOMB 149 

that he could indicate the directions in which an observer 
of acknowledged accuracy could best do service to 

The voluminous correspondence between these two 
men on varied problems indicates how much we owe to 
their joint interests ; and it is delightful to recognize 
their frequent admixture of fun and camaraderie with 
pure science. 

In this connexion may be quoted the words of New- 
comb's daughter, Dr. Anita Newcomb McGee, written in 

I wish I could tell you how very warm was the friend- 
ship between these two, and with what appreciation Sir 
David was always spoken of. I am sure no one was 
dearer to my father personally, besides their scientific 

Unfortunately, there is not space in this volume to treat 
fully of the great astronomical problems discussed in Gill's 
correspondence with Newcomb and many others. 

When Newcomb went to the Cape in 1882 he left his 
daughter Anita in England. She wrote her schoolgirl 
impressions to him, and these were talked over with 
much amusement by the two friends at the Cape. They 
always spoke of her as the " F. B.," meaning " Fair 
Barbarian," which was the title of a story by Mrs. Hodgson 
Burnett, then just published, about an American girl in 
England, where her English relatives were amazed by 
her original and independent proceedings. This will 
explain a reference in the following 



1883, May 23. 

MY DEAR NEWCOMB, It has greatly delighted me to 
receive your welcome letter of the 26th April. 


^ The principal news since you left is that my good friend 
Elkin left 10 days ago. I miss him more than I dare well 


say; both my wife and I do so. He had become part 
and parcel of us, always busy, always ready to discuss 
or argue any point, always genial and friendly. 
* * * * * * 

I am very busy preparing for a trip home to England 
early next year. 

Alas for the F. B. I had hoped one day to look upon 
her but the F. B. is no more at least F still but not B 
a pretty, proper, particular young lady, with a deport- 
ment formed on the papa-prunes-prism principle. Oh 
man ! if you had only brought her to the Cape ! but 
you must be wrong, I believe in my heart she is as fresh 
and natural, as bonny and true and the apple of your 
eye as she was before. [She had evidently adapted 
herself to the country, when left in England, to a degree 
which led to comment on her father's part, to which this 
is a reply.] 


We saw the article Cetewayo in Harper. It did not 
need a " facetious article in an American newspaper " to 
indicate the author. The old savage is being " eaten up/' 
however, in Zululand. [Professor Newcomb visited 
Cetewayo while both were at Cape Town.] 

My wife joins me in kindest remembrances, not only to 
you, but to Mrs. Newcomb and the F, quondam B, both 
of whom we seem to know. 

Always sincerely yours, DAVID GILL. 


1883, December 16. 

MY DEAR NEWCOMB, . . . Have you seen Nyren's 
paper on the constant of aberration? I regard the 
agreement of the results by the three different instru- 
ments as the greatest testimony to the practical genius 
of old Struve, the designer of those instruments, and a 
proof of the perfect manner in which the tradition of 
accuracy and thoroughness which he established has been 
preserved at Pulkowa. It is a fact, I am certain, that 
in Meridian Astronomy we are retrograding. Put the 
observations at Greenwich or Paris or Washington or 
the Cape or anywhere else to the same test and you 

[To face page 150. 


i88 3 - 4 ] NEWCOMB 151 

will find them wanting. But the old Pulkowa observa- 
tions, equally with the new, stand those tests which we 
cannot successfully apply to our modern huge instrument-, 
small accidental-, big systematical-error observations of 
the present day. 

I wish they would let me put up a new Fundamental 
Meridian Observatory here instead of this unwieldy, 
non-reversible, non -testable giant. For a differential 
instrument, I could not wish a better Transit Circle but 
it is playing with Fundamental work to attempt it with 
such a tool. The fact of the matter is that laziness is at 
the bottom of modern degeneration in meridian observa- 
tion. It is such a nice easy thing to turn loose some 
astronomical young gentlemen who are willing for a 
consideration and a Government appointment to devote 
a few hours twice a week to making what they are pleased 
to call observations with a huge machine which the rough- 
est handling cannot disturb, whilst the great chief eats his 
dinner in a dress coat, smokes his cigar and goes to bed. In 
that way and by much printing a very great show can be 
made, but how much progress in Fundamental Astronomy ? 

But I am losing my temper on paper, because I cannot 
get all things as I would wish them. Who does ? Wait 
a bit j^es, wait and it will come all right. Meanwhile 
one grows old, and I suppose by the time my energy and 
strength are gone, I shall have all things as I should wish 
them. Perhaps then I shall have another Elkin beside 
me some one who will work with the same devotion 
and love of truth for truth's sake. Who knows ? That 
would be a consolation. 

Forgive my Sunday afternoon grumble, and 

Believe me, Always sincerely yours, DAVID GILL. 

There was no one ever lived who was so anxious to 
have his conclusions tested by logical argument as David 
Gill. He desired only to get at the truth. He would 
start a subject with Newcomb and then say, " There is 
where I differ with you. Now you give me your reply, 
and well have a scrap ! " He wrote to Newcomb in 
1890, in such a case 

" Let's first shake hands before we box, 
Then give each other friendly knocks, 
With all the love and kindness of a brother." 


So he held his views against his friend in such ques- 
tions as the Transits of Venus, the last decimal place in 
the mass of Jupiter or the moon, or in the constant of 
aberration, and many other vital points in gravitational 
theory, in discussing which he and his opponent too, as 
he knew full well desired only to have his own faults 
exposed and the truth revealed. 



A holiday ? LL.D., Edinburgh Admiralty and Treasury sanction 
purchase of new heliometer Proposed Board of Visitors 
The Gills' homecomings to the Cape Christmas Day with 
the staff. 

FOR a long time Mr. Gill had been looking forward to his 
visit, early in 1884, to Europe. He had prepared for 
publication a vast amount of his own work as well as the 
reduction of some of Maclear's observations of old date, 
and he desired to see these results through the press. 

He was also, now as ever, hard at work in trying to 
improve the position of his staff, and in this connexion he 
wanted to introduce some necessary reforms, involving 
money grants, which could best be explained by personal 
interviews. But most of all, seeing his way to obtain 
valuable results if he could acquire a superior heliometer 
to the details of which he had devoted much thought 
and experience, he was determined to push his project 
through. Already, his earnest efforts in the United 
States of America had been rewarded; and had assisted 
his friend Elkin to obtain a powerful heliometer at 
Yale. He intended now to apply to the Admiralty for 
such an instrument to replace his own 4-inch heliometer 
with which he had proved the incomparable accuracy of 
his own observations. 



1884, May 10. 

MY DEAR NEWCOMB, I came to England for a holiday 
and I have never been so hard worked in the whole of my 
life, , , . 



I have had four distinct and different matters to put 
before the Admiralty. 

1200, for repair and maintenance of buildings, 
new house for carpenter and record room, above 
last or any other year's estimates. 

450 for printing. 

400 a year to raise pay of assistants. 

2700 new heliometer and observatory. 

The first two of these I have got, the two second have 
gone up to the Treasury with the strongest recommenda- 
tion of the Admiralty but my Lords delay their reply, 
and this involves labour ahead. I suppose you have 
sufficient official experience to understand the hard 
labour and heart-breaking loss of time which such a 
matter involves. For fifty years my predecessors have 
allowed matters to jog along, and naturally enough the 
Admiralty cannot understand why all this fuss and demand 
should arise, and I have had a very uphill fight, though 
I must say that my friend Christie has been a friend 
indeed, and has backed me up most thoroughly. 

Then there has been the printing of Elkin's and my 
paper on the Parallax of Stars, and above all, the claims 
on my time of kind relatives and friends who think that 
the only object of a man coming to England must be to 
dine or to lunch, to shoot or to fish, to breakfast or to 
dance, to hunt or to play tennis and although I have 
escaped much I have enjoyed some and suffered many 
of these things. 

In addition to all this, I have been fool enough to 
engage in two distinct and separate pieces of peacocking 
I have had my portrait painted, 1 and I have attended 
the Tercentenary Festival of the Edinburgh University, 
have worn a red gown and a velvet cap and so been for 
the second time transformed into a Doctor of Laws 
what kind of laws I am learned in I have yet to ascertain. 

Now the portrait I forgive myself for, because of the 
great pleasure it has given my little wife. I carried it 
yesterday to her room where she has been for six weeks 
under Dr. Playfair's charge, and she will have it beside 

1 [By Sir George Reid, P.R.S.A.] 

1884] LL.D., EDINBURGH 155 

her for another week when she will emerge from her 
retreat, I hope and believe stronger and better than she 
has been for some years. But the portrait absorbed 
many a forenoon that should have been given to other 
work. The Edinburgh vanities cost me the loss of a 
visit to Pulkowa, and very nearly the gain of an attack 
of bilious fever. Still, the gathering was a very remark- 
able one a red letter week in one's life that I should 
have been sorry to lose. 

By the way I understand that Piazzi Smyth was 
expected to name two astronomers to be invited to attend 
the Tercentenary Meeting and receive degrees . . . one 
for Theoretical and one for Practical Astronomy. He 
gave y r name and mine. The Senatus quite concurred 
but found that there was no time to write and get y 1 
reply and presence, and it had been resolved only to 
confer degrees on those who were present but I under- 
stand that the Hon. Degree will be conferred on you 

After Edinburgh I went to Hamburg where I saw the 
mounting of the 30-inch O.G. for Pulkowa. It is the 
most rigid German mounting I have seen, and very con- 
veniently arranged. I also went into great detail with 
Repsolds about my proposed new Heliometer and as to 
Meridian Instruments of the future. [I have a good deal 
to say on that subject, but am waiting for my time. 
You will see how very sharply dear old Sir George has 
risen (in the May Observatory) to defend the Cape and 
Greenwich Transit Circles.] x I then visited Berlin, 
Potsdam, Bonn, Strassburg and Paris. Of all these 
visits I might write pages to you, but must pull up. 

Is there any chance of our meeting y r wife or the F. B. 
if so let me know. I w d go a long way to have the pleasure 
of meeting either one or the other. My wife has greatly 
benefited by her recent course of medical treatment 
and I hope she will join me in all things, as of old, in 
about a week. Ever thine, DAVID GILL. 

The energy with which Gill used to get the better 
of official inertia and red tape gained the admiration of 

1 These square brackets [ ] are in the original letter. On 
every other occasion where they are used in this book they 
indicate words inserted by the present writer. 


his friends and the hearty appreciation of some Admiralty 
officials. He was, however, chary of mentioning his 
success in obtaining sanction for the purchase of the 
heliometer. But he derived much pleasure from the 
opinion expressed by Admiral Wharton, the hydrographer, 
who wrote, " You carried your heliometer business 
through by personal energy, and uncommonly well you 
managed it." 

On arrival l at the Admiralty one morning he found 
that the question had passed from the Hydrographic 
Department and that before reaching the Treasury would 
pass through many hands and might be settled in about 
three weeks. After careful enquiries on general procedure 
he traced the documents and cheerily interviewed the 
official in whose hands they were, and explained the 
importance of the instrument and its uses. Thanked for 
his kindness in calling he was told the request would 
receive early attention and would probably be out of 
that room in a week or so ; but Gill pointed out that it 
was essential that it should be through all Departments 
of the Admiralty and sanctioned by the Treasury to enable 
him to announce to the Astronomical Society Meeting 
that evening that the Government had sanctioned the 
purchase of the instrument. After suggesting that the 
official could write his brief minute at once as well as a 
week later his views prevailed, the minute was written, 
and he was entrusted with the documents for conveyance 
to the officer who was to deal with them next. The pro- 
cess was repeated and he hied him to the Treasury where 
he added to his former plea for haste the example of 
the businesslike way the Admiralty had dealt with the 
matter. The Treasury people humoured him, but the 
last man urged the utter impossibility of final Treasury 
sanction as the Financial Secretary was not in his office. 
Enquiry as to his whereabouts proved him to be at the 
House of Commons; so Gill hastened there and after 
explanations the Secretary agreed to the provision of the 

1 This account of the transaction comes from one of the staff 
of the Cape Observatory, Mr. J. Power, who probably had it at 
first hand. 


heliometer; and a very happy Gill drove at once to the 
R.A.S. and made his announcement. 

It has been said that Gill was always open for 
advice how to deal with the official of red tape ; and he 
once told how such an official, during a discussion of 
observatory requirements, " became excited, and actually 
swore at me." When asked " What did you do? " he 
replied frankly : "I swore at him." It was then sug- 
gested to him that a better plan would have been to seem 
aggrieved and to propose an adjournment of the discussion 
till the next day, when his opposer would probably be 
less heated. Gill saw the truth of this and, lamenting 
that he had not known of it earlier, he resolved to broach 
the question again and try the experiment. It succeeded. 

During their pressure of engagements the Gills were able 
to enjoy a well-earned rest at the home of his sister 
Maggie, Mrs. Powell, at Bury St. Edmunds. 



1884, June 17. 

MY DEAR ELKIN, You will, I am sure, be glad to 
hear that on Friday, the I3th hist., I got the consent of 
the Secretary of the Treasury to announce to the R.A.S. 
the same evening that the heliometer would be granted. 
Lord Northbrook * has been a very kind friend in the 
matter ; his interest in it, I think, has been increased by 
a good deal from our old friend, Sir Fred. Richards. 
Christie also has backed me most thoroughly. I dined 
at the Admiralty on the I2th and Lord N. offered to give 
me a letter to the Treasury that I might push the matter 

Of course, I took advantage of such an offer, presented 
myself at the Admiralty at noon, and found that the 
letter of the Admiralty to the Treasury on the subject 
was not prepared. Armed with powers from Lord N. 
I pushed the matter through all the departments faster 
than anything of the kind had ever been done before, 
and set off for the Treasury. Got immediate access to 

1 [First Lord of the Admiralty.] 


the chief permanent Sec y , Sir R. Lingen, who said after 
some talk that he was favourable, but that Mr. Courtney, 
the Ministerial Secretary, must be consulted and he had 
gone to the House of Commons. After a little persuasion 
by stating that the last meeting of the R.A.S. came off 
that evening, he gave me a letter to Mr. Courtney, enclosed 
Lord N.'s letter and all the Treasury papers, and I set 
off to the House of Commons, found Mr. Courtney, went 
to his private room and got his consent after going into 
the matter. Treasury consent had never been known 
to be obtained so rapidly before. I think I have also 
brought about England joining the Metric Convention, 
at the same time. The two with my printing, will not 
be a bad piece of work for my trip home. 

My wife got ill again too much work in receiving and 
paying calls in London. 


Now old man we must gird up our loins for our big 
parallax job 1 and carry it out manfully. . . . 

We have a grand work before us God grant us strength 
and health to carry it out. 

My wife has been better since we came down quietly 
here. My sister has a charming place and is very happy. 

We go north to Aberdeen in the end of the month, 
returning to London on 1st August. 

With kindest regards to y r mother and self, in which 
my wife unites, I am always, dear Elkin, your sincere 
friend, DAVID GILL. 

As already stated, since Airy's retirement there was 
no one who could take his place. The Cape Observatory 
had no Board of Visitors as Greenwich has. It does 
not appear that the Cape Astronomer was ever officially 
placed under any sort of supervision or control of the 
Astronomer Royal of the time as such. It is true that 
Airy in his autobiography, on the appointments of 
Henderson, Stone and Gill (but not of Maclear), to the 
Cape Observatory records the fact that he " gave them 
their instructions." Gill, however, certainly believed 

1 Determining solar parallax by observations of minor planets 
with their two heliometers. 


that he was unfettered by any instructions. 1 Still, Airy 
had gradually assumed, with respect to H.M. Astronomer 
at the Cape, the same position that the Board of Visitors 
does to the Astronomer Royal. The anomaly was so 
likely to lead to trouble that Gill and Christie seem to 
have discussed the question amicably together. 

Before leaving England Gill tried to get something 
settled, but without effect. Long afterwards, the failure 
of this effort was found to have unfortunate results. 


1884, August 15. 

MY DEAR CHRISTIE, After much thinking over the 
question of a Board for the Cape Observatory, I have 
come to the conclusion that you should take the initiative. 

I have spoken to Sir Fred k Richards about an annual 
inspection by the Admiral at the Cape. His reply was a 
broad grin, and, " What a lot of plunder you'll get out 
of that. What about those four loads of Admiralty stores 
you got out of me when I, in a weak moment, inspected 



Always yours sincerely, DAVID GILL. 

The Gills returned to the Cape in September 1884. 
His voyage must have been a period of satisfactory 
enjoyment of the vast amount of work accomplished 
during his holiday, brightened by the improved state of 
his wife's health. He had obtained his first great desire 
in the ordering of a powerful heliometer. His next 
ambition, to have a perfect instrument for fundamental 
meridional astronomy, possibly also a fine telescope, 
might come in time. Meanwhile, his extension of 
Argelander's work to the southern hemisphere by photo- 
graphy was ready to advance, supported by funds 
administered by the Royal Society. He had passed 
many volumes and papers through the press. He had 
1 He makes this clear in his History, etc., p. xxxix. 


been in close touch with most of the great astronomers 
of Europe, and he was coming to his home to be welcomed 
by loving and devoted friends. 

The mode of his homecomings after visits to England 
is given by Mr. Power, of the observatory staff. 

His departures for holidays and his homecomings usually 
meant a gathering of the whole staff for good-byes or 
welcomes. In 1893 the incoming mail arrived after dark 
and anchored in the Bay. Colonel Morris and several 
of the staff went off in a tug, but unfortunately as they 
ascended the gangway on one side of the ship the Chief 
descended that on the other side to go ashore with the 
Medical Officer of Health. The visitors took vacant 
seats at the dinner table and an hour later, as the tug 
approached the docks, his cheery hail was heard from the 
pier. He had made Lady Gill comfortable in their waiting 
carriage, for neither would disappoint those who had come 
to greet them. When asked why they had not driven 
off on landing he answered, " We were certain some of 
you would be here, so, not finding you, I inquired and 
found you had gone off." Before the carriage started, 
news of every one had to be given to the cold and hungry 

An arrival during office hours found only one or two 
of the staff at the ship, because if more were absent from 
the observatory he would have spoilt the welcome by 
grumbling about neglect of duty. On these occasions 
his arrival was speedily known. He walked straight to 
the study and started to read the top letter of the pile 
on his desk, but was at once interrupted by the first of 
a procession of the staff, for each one of whom he had a 
pithy story of their relatives or friends whom he had seen. 
A like scene was going on in Lady Gill's room, and before 
the day was over not only the staff, but every child 
(many in those days) had trooped in. It was really a 
family reunion, and one would like to have overheard 
the expression of his happy feelings at the end of the day. 

Another occasion when all hands mustered was 
" Christmas afternoon on the lawn." The bachelor 
members of the staff resident in boarding-houses had 
mid-day dinner with the Chief, all other members with 
their wives and families kept the afternoon free and 

1884] RETURN TO CAPE 161 

even if on seaside holiday some members of the family 
returned for the afternoon. The children brought Santa 
Claus' presents and he took as keen an interest in their 
explanations as if they were the latest improvement in 
telescopes. Later followed a meeting of Chief and Staff 
in his study for a happy hour over pipe and cigar. The 
youngest and the most boyishly happy of the crowd was 
Gill. The interest in those engaged at the observatory 
was not a matter of once a year but was continuous. 

On their periodical trips to England they were specially 
pleased to be used as carriers, and each trip brought a 
case or cases for some one. The " Messenger " at the 
Admiralty, who was surprised to see H.M. Astronomer 
walking in with a box in his arms, would have been more 
surprised if he had known it was a wreath of Cape flowers 
for the grave of a junior's relative. He was proud to 
deliver it with his own hands. 

A packing-case was always kept open at his head- 
quarters for parcels he was to bring out on his return. 
On one occasion when consulted by a relative of one of 
his staff commissioned to purchase and send out a piano, 
he (assured that the relative desired to send a more 
expensive instrument and was willing to pay the extra 
cost) offered to select and convey the instrument to the 
Cape. When payment of freight was tendered by the 
recipient he was mightily offended. 




Mr. Christie Dr. Huggins Dr. Gould Professor Kapteyn The 
Durchmusterung The astrographic chart. 

GILL'S gratitude to Mr. Christie for his support when 
applying for the heliometer was expressed in many letters 
to astronomers at home and abroad, and was also shown 
by his letters to him personally. 



1884, November 4. 

MY DEAR CHRISTIE, I cannot let a mail pass without 
sending you our most hearty congratulations on the new 
arrival and above all on the good news you give of 
Mrs. Christie. You know that you have our warmest 
wishes that all good things may fall to your lot. I know 
the relief of mind that this happy event has brought you. 
God grant that your dear wife and her boy may long be 
spared in health and strength. 

[Here follow remarks on a paper he is sending for the 
R.A.S. denouncing with indignation his predecessor's in- 
exactitudes in reducing transit circle observations. And 
he adds] 

There is no stopping to reason out anything, no care 
to eliminate or investigate sources of error, but a very 
common routine mill of a sledge-hammer kind smashing 
up and grinding together all kinds of incongruities and 
turning out a certain tale of work, let its quality be what 
it may. 1 

1 [And yet this, in a less exaggerated form, was the tendency 
he was constantly deploring in the fundamental meridional work 
of all modern observatories except, perhaps, Pulkowa.] 



I enclose a letter from my wife for Mrs. Christie. I 
am thankful to say that Mrs. Gill is wonderfully better. 
She is actually giving a dance to-morrow in honour of 
my brother [Patrick, from Australia] who is living with 
us on a visit. I am turned out of my Sanctum, which is to 
be the ball-room, and I feel very much like a fish out of the 
water. With hopes of continued good news and kindest 
regards. Believe me, Always sincerely yours, 


The condemnation, in the above letter, of the methods 
of observation and reduction used in Stone's valuable 
Catalogue of Southern Stars emphasizes the position 
always held by David Gill that nothing but the best 
achievement should be tolerated by a real astronomer. 
Right or wrong, that was the key to the man's life. He 
looked upon all " slapdash " methods as treason to the 
" Queen of the Sciences." 



1886, February 2. 


By last mail I had a letter from Otto Struve to tell 
me that I have been elected a corresponding member of 
the Imperial Academy of Sciences, St. Petersburg, the 
election to be announced at the annual meeting of the 
Academy on January 10. 

Sudden hot weather has set in upon us, and it has 
upset my wife's health, and she is suffering a good deal. I 
hear you are being frozen while we are being roasted. 
What would I give now for a snowball fight, or a pair of 
skates and a bit of good ice ! and probably you would 
give something for some of our sunshine and heat ! So 
it goes. However I am as busy as I can be, and con- 
sequently quite happy and ready to make the best of 
things. Always sincerely yours, DAVID GILL. 




1886, April 7. 


You are a dreadfully bad correspondent. You don't 
know how grateful a letter is at this distance from home, 
especially about matters astronomical, else you would 
write me oftener. Yours sincerely, DAVID GILL. 



1886, November 29. 

MY DEAR CHRISTIE, I was prepared for the news x 
conveyed by your letter of Nov. 4 by a telegram from 

There is only one view of the question to which I can 
take exception and it is this, viz. that the Gov* Grant 
Committee having voted 100 for a new Dallmeyer lens, 
and having induced me to spend Nasmyth's 200 and 
50 out of my own pocket for the apparatus represented 
in the enclosed photograph, to carry out a scheme which 
they had so far supported, suddenly turn round and throw 
upon me the responsibility of dispensing with Mr. Woods' 
services now, and thus upsetting the whole carefully 
organized existing work, or taking upon myself the risk 
of having to pay his expenses to England out of my own 
pocket. Indeed in any case the responsibility for these 
expenses is thrown on me, as Mr. Woods cannot be dis- 
missed without six months notice, and an adverse 
decision in May will cost me thus 12 months pay besides 
Woods' passage home, a matter of 200. 

I need hardly tell you that I prefer to undertake this 
responsibility to breaking up the existing work. 

It may be well at this stage to give a few character- 
istic letters of this period to other astronomers. 

Gill's voluminous correspondence with Huggins is 
mostly of interest only to practical astronomers. But his 

1 [That the Royal Society might discontinue financial support 
to the C.P.D.] 


racy style crops out everywhere. Here are some extracts 
from letters written in 1886 from Gill to Huggins. 

The famous recipe for making hare soup says, " first 
catch your hare." Just now I am catching my hares, 
and hope in due time to make a quantity of soup in 

But I wish to present the opportunity to you of coming 
out here yourself and Mrs. Huggins in September to try 
y r own hand at photographing the Moon on the back- 
ground of the Corona. . . ., and you and your wife would 
have a home and a right kindly welcome. 

I have a very kindly feeling to Pritchard. I remember 
long ago his wise advice to me, at a B.A. meeting in 
Edinburgh when I rushed like a hot-headed young ass 
as I was, at conclusions about the parallax of a nebula 
founded on a few observations extending over a few 
months. How wisely he advised me to be cautious and 
patient, but no I would make an ass of myself. Well ! 
that taught me a lesson, and I wonder chiefly now how 
it is that a man can be so wise in advice, and so foolish 
in practice as Pritchard seems to have been. 

To DR. B. A. GOULD (Cordoba) 

1884, December 23. 

MY DEAR GOULD, It is a long time since I have 
written to you, but I cannot allow a single mail to pass 
without acknowledging receipt of your Zone-Catalogue. 

I have no adequate words to describe such a work, and 
one cannot think of it alone without the Uranometria 
and the Catalogue on which it rests. 

The whole history of practical astronomy presents no 
such brilliant instance of successful devotion to a well 
conceived original design, carried out from first to last 
with consummate energy and skill. You have compelled 
by your enthusiasm the Government of a remote Republic 
to make large sacrifices for science, you have won the 
devotion of your assistants and inspired them with some 
of your own fire, and the result is incomparably the most 
precious contribution to the astronomy of the Southern 
Hemisphere, and one of the noblest works ever accom- 
plished by the labour of a single Astronomer. 

With all my heart I am in sympathy with the dedica- 
tion of this work to the memory of your wife. Without 


sympathy and co-operation like hers few men would 
voluntarily have endured the expatriation and solitude 
of a life like yours without his wife's fullest co-operation 
no married man had a right to do so and none but a 
married man with such a wife as yours could have 
done it. 

I would that she had lived to see this great work finished, 
and to have shared with you the honours and congratula- 
tions with which your work will be received. The reward 
of sacrifice in a noble cause is not only the honour and 
the praise of men in the accomplishment of the work. 
It is a higher and a nobler and a better thing, it accom- 
panies the work from day to day ; it is the purifying and 
refining of the aspirations, the daily increasing desire 
for higher and better things, the fitting of ourselves daily 
for the higher and the better of the hereafter. 

Those who, like your wife, have led a life of sacrifice 
for the high, the noble, the pure, the true, have found no 
small reward already in this life, and now, as I believe, 
her soul waits for perfecting with yours the ever higher 
life of the eternities. 

May God bless and help you in your more solitary life. 
May her children bless you, may your work which she 
shared continue to fill your useful life, and may the hope 
of meeting comfort you " till the day breaks." 

My heart is too full of you and yours to write about 
my own little affairs. 

My wife joins me in kindest regards and sympathy, 
and Believe me, Always sincerely yours, 



1885, May 13. 

MY DEAR SIRS, I am sorry to say that from a telegram 
which I have just received I fear it will not be possible 
to obtain the necessary credit for the photographic tele- 
scope beyond the Dallmeyer lens with which I am now 
carrying on the star charting of the Southern Hemisphere. 

I had hoped to be able to carry on simultaneously 
photographs of star clusters, etc., with sufficient precision 
for accurate measurement but this must wait. It is very 
sad that science should have to wait for money but so 
it is alas ! Yours very sincerely, DAVID GILL. 


After many preparations the first exposure of a Durch- 
musterung plate with the improved apparatus was made 
on April 15, 1885, and the exposures were completed 
in December 1889. 

The labours of our astronomer were by this time so 
exacting that the amount of work required for measuring 
star places upon the plates fairly appalled him, although 
never in his life did he flinch from a duty. At this time 
one of the most delightful episodes of his life occurred. 
He was in continual correspondence with the greatest 
authorities in Europe and America on particular lines 
of research on which he was, or expected to be, engaged. 
Thus for some years he had kept up a correspondence 
concerning the highest refinements possible, in certain 
directions 1 for the avoidance of all possible errors in 
astronomical fundamental measurements of position 
with a Dutch astronomer whom he had never met, 
Professor J. C. Kapteyn, then of Leiden, afterwards of 
Groningen, who became later the highest authority on 
stellar motion investigations. 

Kapteyn was well qualified to appreciate the crying 
need of a southern Durchmusterung in continuation of 
the invaluable catalogue of Argelander. Imagine, then, 
the joy of the harassed astronomer at the Cape to receive, 
in December 1885, a letter from Professor Kapteyn 
containing these words 


16 Dec. 1885. [Conclusion of letter.] I am here to 
break off because I now hear that this letter has to be 
dispatched an hour earlier than I expected. 

I therefore will write you another letter that will reach 
you a week later. In that letter I will make bold to 
make and explain to you a proposal that I hope you will 
not deem indelicate. It is in the main what follows. 

1 See Copernicus, vol. iii. for Professor Kapteyn 's method for 
getting fundamental declinations and latitude and for correcting 
refraction tables. Gill was practically carrying out Kapteyn 's 


If you will confide to me one or two of the negatives 
I will try my hand at them, and if the result proves 
as I expect I would gladly* devote some years of my life 
to this work which would disburden you a little as I hope 
and by which I would gain the honour of associating my 
name to one of the grandest undertakings of our time. 

Afterwards Kapteyn wrote : " I think my enthusiasm 
for the matter will be equal to (say) six or seven years 
of such work." 

Sir David Gill has tried to express the sensation of 
relief afforded by this confidence shown towards him by 
that distinguished astronomer. 

At a time of great stress and discouragement he [Kap- 
teyn] lifted from my shoulders a load of responsibility 
by his noble and spontaneous offer to undertake the 
measurement of the plates, the computation of the results, 
and the formation of the catalogue. 

The whole of Kapteyn's work is marked by extra- 
ordinary thoroughness and accuracy; and the time he 
spent on the C.P.D. 1 and the revision of it was double 
the number of years he had estimated. When two 
such earnest fellow-workers are in harness together, 
each one is amply repaid for his own share by the 
affectionate esteem established between the pair. But 
Gill, while he regretted his inability to repay in an 
equal degree the self-sacrifice of his colleague, was rejoiced 
to find that there was some recompense, and that this 
work upon the C.P.D. first directed Kapteyn's mind to 
the study of cosmical astronomy, and " led him to the 
brilliant researches and discoveries with which his name 
is now and ever will be associated " (History, etc.). 

Kapteyn's greatest discovery in cosmical astronomy 
was told to the world, first at St. Louis in 1904, and then 
at the Cape in 1905 during the visit of the British Associa- 
tion to South Africa. This discovery was that the great 

1 Cape Photographic Durchmusterung. 

To face page 168. 


i88 4 -6] PROFESSOR KAPTEYN 169 

majority of stars, near enough to us to show proper 
motion, are moving in two great swarms in nearly oppo- 
site directions. It is not too much to say that this great 
discovery has revolutionized our conceptions of the stellar 

Their combined work riveted these two men together 
in other researches, and Kapteyn's name was thereafter 
added to that growing band of distinguished astronomers 
whose continuous correspondence with Gill became an 
important part of the world's progress in astronomy. 

Meanwhile, the period, from 1884 to 1887, of absence 
from England was being utilized in Europe. Gill's com- 
munication to Admiral Mouchez, head of the Paris 
Observatory, about the photographs of the comet of 
1882, 1 led him to organize an International Conference of 
Astronomers to meet in Paris in 1887. As already stated, 
an inspection of these photographs had attracted the 
attention of the Brothers Henry of the Paris Observa- 
tory. They were then engaged in revising Chacornac's 
catalogue of zodiacal stars, in which work they had just 
reached the appalling mazes of the Milky Way. They 
immediately understood that the assistance of photo- 
graphy must be brought to bear upon the task; and 
Admiral Mouchez, having been equally impressed by 
Gill's photographic work, gave his official support to the 
Brothers Henry. These devoted brothers then set to 
work, with their own hands, to make the lenses for, 
and to mount, a fine photographic telescope with which 
they produced superb photographs which delighted the 
astronomical world. 

Following from these events, Admiral Mouchez, with 
the assistance of Dr. Gill and the brothers Henry, was 
able to invite the astronomical world to Paris for the 
year 1887, to discuss the possibility of executing an 
International Carte du del by photography. 

1 Comptes Rendus de L'Acad. des Sciences. Paris, 1882, 
December 26, voi, xcv. pp. 1342, 1343. 



Heliometer The Paris Congress The Cape Durchmusterung 
An unappreciative colleague Admiral Wharton Situation 

The Heliometer 

IN 1887, Dr. Gill had to return to Europe partly to join 
in the deliberations of the Astrographic Congress at Paris, 
and partly to receive from Repsold of Hamburg the fine 
heliometer, due in February, to the performances of which 
he looked forward with enthusiastic hopes. He was also 
anxious to see whether the resolution of the Government 
Grant Committee of the Royal Society, to withhold 
financial support from the C.P.D., was to be carried out. 
The Committee, on the suggestion of Dr. Huggins, had 
decided to postpone a final decision until after the Paris 

This visit, in 1887, to Europe was most eventful for 
astronomy. It would have been so had nothing come of 
it except the inspection and delivery of the great 7-inch 
heliometer for the Cape Observatory, which was destined, 
in the hands of probably the finest observer in the world, 
to furnish results of unparalleled accuracy in problems 
beyond the capacity of most observers. 

It would have been equally eventful for astronomy if 
nothing had come of it except the Astrographic Congress, 
with the initiation of the International Carte du del 
and Catalogue. David Gill was elected its President 
d'honneur, acclaimed by ballot, and he proved himself 
in the sequel to be the greatest organizer of astronomical 
joint undertakings known to his generation. 


i88 7 ] THE HELIOMETER 171 

His most enjoyable episodes were the tour of foreign 
observatories, when he first had the pleasure of meeting 
his fellow- worker, Professor Kapteyn; and the visit 
with him to Hamburg for the inspection of the great 

Professor Kapteyn, in his obituary notice of Sir David 
Gill, 1 tells us 

In March 1887 I had the pleasure of accompanying him 
to Hamburg. After a fatiguing journey we arrived only 
a little before midnight. Repsold was there to meet us. 
He told us that early on the next morning everything 
would be in order, so that Gill might inspect the 7-inch 
heliometer which had just been completed. Gill would 
not hear of such a thing. " I can but give you the time 
necessary for reading my letter. After that we must 
see the heliometer." And we saw it, and when he had 
inspected every detail, turned every handle, read every 
microscope, he burst out: "Well, aren't you jealous? 
Why, I wouldn't be half as happy as I am, if you weren't." 
Not many weeks later the instrument was mounted at 
the Cape, the most efficient instrument of the sort in 

Having inspected and passed the heliometer, the next 
holiday work was to go to Paris to meet the astronomers. 

At the Astrographic Congress of 1887 the heads of the 
world's greatest observatories combined to arrange for 
setting up astrographic telescopes and taking the photo- 
graphs necessary, each for the portion of the heavens 
assigned to it. This generally involved application to 
the Government concerned, for a grant of money. A 
permanent committee was appointed. It was resolved 
to add to the actual chart of stars down to I4th magnitude 
a catalogue of all stars down to the nth magnitude. 
It was also resolved to request Dr. Gill to prepare a draft 
scheme for carrying out the decisions of the Congress, 
as a basis for discussion. Gill foresaw in this great 

1 The A strophysical Journal, September 1914. 


catalogue a work of incalculable value to future astro- 
nomy. His desire to benefit astronomers of the future, 
in the way that Bradley, b^ his extremely accurate work 
more than 150 years ago is benefiting us, was well 
shown in the course of a letter to the Secretary of the 
R.A.S., in the following year. 



April 26, 1888. 



You lay down at the end of your letter a statement 
with which I find it difficult to agree, and one which I 
venture to hope you will reconsider, viz. " there is an 
obvious objection to embarking in a scheme which 
cannot be completed for thirty years from now." I 
should be as sorry as you if we did not get the photo- 
graphs taken within the next 5 or 6 years. It is most 
desirable that we should have the data for determining 
the places of the stars as nearly as possible at one epoch 
for the whole sky. But these mere photographs are of 
very little real value in themselves except for very 
secondary purposes and to carry out the resolution of 
the Congress and catalogue the stars to nth magnitude 
is a great and noble work that may worthily occupy 
30 years and I would be very glad if I could be sure that 
it would be completed in that time. 


Always sincerely yours, DAVID GILL. 

These high ideals concerning the assistance that all 
true astronomers can, and ought to, give to their successors, 
and concerning the unselfishness with which the true 
astronomer must do his duty, not to himself and his own 
generation alone, but also to the science of astronomy, 
were the motive impulses which guided all of David Gill's 
astronomical thoughts and deeds. Thus in his presidential 
address to the British Association in 1907 he speaks of 
learning the lesson 


that human knowledge in the slowly developing pheno- 
mena of sidereal astronomy must be content to progress 
by the accumulating labours of successive generations of 
men ; that progress will be measured for generations yet 
to come more by the amount of honest, well-directed, 
and systematically discussed observation than by the 
most brilliant speculation; and that, in observation, 
concentrated systematic effort on a special thoughtfully 
selected problem will be of more avail than the most 
brilliant but disconnected work. 

By these means we shall learn more and more of the 
wonders that surround us, and recognize our limitations 
when measurement and facts fail us. 

In regard to the astrographic chart and catalogue, there 
was some controversy after the Paris meeting. It is not 
the duty of this biographer here to argue as to Dr. Gill's 
Tightness or wrongness in striving towards the very best, 
when the very best may be unattainable. Nor is it his 
duty here to argue for or against the preliminary modes 
of procedure proposed by Dr. Gill, nor to applaud or 
criticize the plans and the instruments devised by him for 
their execution. Subsequent historians of astronomy will 
be in a better position for dealing with these questions. 

It will be enough here to have narrated briefly the part 
which fate, in the shape of fifty-six astronomers, com- 
pelled this essentially modest man to play in the Congress 
of 1887, as the leader and organizer of the grandest 
international astronomical research that has ever been 
undertaken. He did not seek that position for himself, 
but, in the words of one writing from the trenches in 
France, 1916 

" The wise man will take the lowest room; but only 
the shirker will refuse to go up higher." l 

Gill was never known to refuse to undertake any 
duty imposed upon him. 

When, as one of fifty-six astronomers, he set out in 1887 
for the Congress at Paris, he looked upon himself as a 

1 The Spectator, January 29, 1916. 


unit among fifty-six units, every one of whom would 
come to the meetings primed with useful plans, the result 
of mature thought. He little realized at first, what soon 
became apparent to others, that he was head and 
shoulders above all the others in knowledge and ex- 
perience of the production and measurement of stellar 
photographs, and in consideration of the problems; and 
that from this year, 1887, to the year of his death, 1914, 
the members of the Comite permanent would, individually 
and collectively, seek to be guided and directed by his 
judgment, as in nearly every point they so succeeded, 
towards the completion of the Astrographic Chart and 
Catalogue. One of the ablest of the members of the 
Comite permanent has expressed this in the following 
words x 

The initiative for this great undertaking is due to the 
joint action of Gill and Admiral Mouchez, the director 
of the Paris Observatory, aided by the brothers Henry. 
What the whole undertaking, not only at starting, but 
during the whole of its progress, owes to Gill's untiring 
energy, all will know who attended the meetings of the 
Comite Permanent. Up to the last his was the great 
driving force. . . . 

How different everything will be at the future meetings, 
when Gill will not be there ! How different would be 
the outlook now, if he could have carried through his 
plan for a central bureau, perhaps the only important 
measure which he failed to see brought about ! 

A few pages may now be given to the Cape Photo- 
graphic Durchmusterung (C.P.D.), whose fate hung in 
the balance. The great astronomers of all countries 
saw the immediate need and great importance of thus 
extending that invaluable star catalogue of Argelander 
and Schonfeldt, the Bonn Durchmusterung (B.D.), to 
the south pole of the heavens. Unfortunately, the 
occupant of Airy's chair does not appear to have 

1 The Astrographic Journal, September 1914. 

1 887] THE C.P.D. 175 

absorbed his predecessor's sympathetic appreciation for 
worthy effort outside of his own departments; and 
he considered it to be his duty to prevent the Royal 
Society from continuing to support Gill's photographic 

The plates were to be exposed so as to include all 
stars down to the 9^ magnitude and no more. It would 
be laughable if it were not almost tragic to record the 
fact that Gill's work was opposed because, at a Royal 
Society conversazione in 1886, his photographs, showing 
so few stars, were placed beside long-exposure photo- 
graphs of the Milky Way, showing thousands of stars. 
Gill wrote to Newcomb 

I told them that I had heard of babies crying for the 
moon but I had never dreamt of anything so funny 
as a row of Fellows of the Royal Society insisting on 
having more 9^ magnitude stars in the heavens, else 
they would stop supplies. This made them very angry. 

This ridiculous comparison, and the contention that 
the immediate completion of Argelander's identification- 
catalogue would be a competitor, instead of an assist- 
ance, to the international Carte du del then contem- 
plated, were reasons given by Mr. Christie and his followers 
for stopping supplies. 

In this he was successful. First, at Paris, he pre- 
vented the Congress of astronomers from expressing 
their opinion by saying he would withdraw his official 
support from the Carte du del if the motion proposed 
by Struve and Auwers in favour of Gill's work were 
brought forward. Then, at the Grants Committee of 
the Royal Society, his official position enabled him to 
overpower the opinions of greater men on the Council 
whose speciality was not astronomy. There came an 
earnest appeal on behalf of the C.P.D. from Auwers, and 
then a most generous offer from the Berlin Academy of 
Sciences to supply the funds for Gill's great work. This 


was countered by the plea that the Admiralty could not 
be so unpatriotic as to allow him to accept it. 

The shipwreck of the greit southern catalogue seemed 
at last to be complete. But people had still something 
to learn about the unselfishness of David Gill, and of his 
wife, when the interests of science were af stake. Rather 
than allow this great need of astronomy to remain un- 
fulfilled they resolved to complete the work at their own 
private expense. 

The following extracts from a letter express the opinion 
of one of the most distinguished astronomers of the day, 
Professor J. C. Adams. 

To PROFESSOR KAPTEYN. London 1887. June 5. Last 
Friday evening I delivered a lecture at the Royal Institu- 
tion on the subject of the Applications of Photography 
in Astronomy and laid down my views of the Paris 
Congress and of the relations of the Durchmusterung to 
the work of that Congress. 

It was an abominably wet night but the room was 
crowded, and after the lecture who should come up to me 
but Prof. J. C. Adams of Cambridge. " I have come up 
from Cambridge to hear your lecture," he said, " and I 
am delighted to have done so good night." 

That was all that he said. 

But yesterday was the visitation of the Greenwich 
Observatory, and I went there like all the rest of the 
world. The Board of Visitors as you know sit down 
about 3 o'clock, and are generally done with their work 
at half-past four. But 5 o'clock came, half-past five, six 
o'clock, and still the Board sat. About 5.30 Pritchard 
came out looking very angry. I said to him, " What is 
the matter? " " Oh, it's Adams. He doesn't understand 
photography and he has been making no end of trouble," 
and oft he went in a hurry. 

At last about half-past six, the Members of the Board 
came out and adjourned to dinner. I was seated beside 
Adams. He then said, " They have been talking all sorts 
of nonsense in that Board. " I had to set them right. 
They said y r Durchmusterung was a rival scheme to the 
Paris one and should be stopped. I told them I had 
heard your lecture last night, that it was not a rival 

1887] THE C.P.D. 177 

scheme but a necessary preliminary. They thought that 
photography was to supersede meridian instruments. I 
told them they were talking nonsense that they should 
have come to hear your lecture and they would have been 
better and wiser men." 

You may imagine what a bombshell this was amongst 

Then Adams had also come down with Stokes and told 
Stokes about my lecture and how surprised he had been 
at my being refused the Gov* grant. Then Stokes told 
Adams that both he and Lord Rayleigh thought that Gill 
was right, but they were overruled by the astronomical 
members of the Committee. 

Any attempt of the enemy to stop me is now fairly 
checkmated the work will go on in peace and the 
Gov* Grant Committee can weep over their mistake at 
their leisure. 

God grant us health and strength to complete this 
noble work (as Auwers calls it) and to shame its enemies 
by its success. 

In the course of the same letter to his colleague, 
Professor Kapteyn, he uses these words 

So, after thinking the matter well over, my wife and 
I made up our minds that we should spend our own money 
upon the work, and after reckoning ways and means we 
found that by a little self-sacrifice we could do so. 

And in a subsequent letter to the same friend later 
from the Cape, dated September 6, 1887, he says 

My wife has gone thoroughly hand in hand with me in 
the matter. We have carried out a great many domestic 
economies, and with a little sacrifice of capital we can 
manage. I shall be truly thankful if in any way we can 
manage together to do this great and necessary work. 

Let it be remembered that this was the wife who, 
shortly after their marriage, besought him to accept the 
Dun Echt post, at a great pecuniary sacrifice. In a 
letter to Miss Agnes Clerke from the Cape, dated De- 
cember 6, 1887, he incidentally mentions that 350 per 



annum was the sum he was then paying out of his own 

It is hardly necessary to dd, what is known to every- 
one, that the Durchmusterung has been of the utmost 
service to astronomers. 

Here it ought to be stated that, after the pleasing 
heliometer incident of 1884, Gill found that Mr. Christie's 
advice to the Admiralty became decidedly hostile to nearly 
all proposals issuing from the Cape, and this involved 
him in tedious correspondence to explain the situation 
to the Admiralty. 1 To dwell upon this opposition would 
be to attach undue importance to it. The correspond- 
ence is mentioned only because it bears witness to some 
of the finest traits in Gill's character, and the world's 
gratitude to him must be increased when it is known 
that throughout his work for twenty years he had con- 
tinually to bear the strain of opposition at home in a 
quarter where least he might have expected it. 

Lord Kelvin and others tried at one time, without 
success, to remove these disabilities. Eventually, the 
difficulty solved itself to a great extent when Admiral 
Wharton, the Hydrographer, by his great scientific 
attainments, was enabled to take upon his own shoulders 
the responsibility of acting as adviser-in-chief to the 
Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty, in observatory 

1 The correspondence shows, along with many other similar 
incidents, that, if Sir W. Christie's advice had prevailed, astro- 
nomers would not now possess Gill's and Kapteyn's Catalogue 
(C.P.D.) ; the British nation would not have computed and pub- 
lished Gill's final work on Solar Parallax and the Moon's Mass ; 
the splendid Meridian Marks for his Transit Circle would not have 
been constructed, and some of Gill's and Hough's work would in 
consequence have been lost to the world ; the staff and equipment 
of the Cape Observatory would have been seriously crippled ; and 
the Observatory itself would have been transferred from the con- 
trol of the Admiralty to that of the Cape Colony, with disastrous 
results. The reader will find some slight mention of these 
matters in the correspondence with Newcomb, Kapteyn and Miss 
Clerke, at the end of this book, but the main letters dealing with 
this and other matter of the same kind are not needed for the 
purposes of these Memories. 

i88 7 ] ADMIRAL WHARTON 179 

The correspondence between Sir David Gill and Admiral 
Wharton breathes mutual admiration and trust, with 
wise counsel gratefully acknowledged. It helped on 
the cause of astronomy from 1885 to 1905, and enabled 
Sir William Wharton effectively to support the greatest 
of Gill's endeavours in the cause of astronomy. No history 
of astronomy will be complete that fails to record the debt 
owed by that science to Admiral Sir William Wharton. 

The correspondence is too technical for this book. 
Throughout, it bears witness, in the conflict with Green- 
wich, to 

Gill's impersonality in controversy; his clearness of 
reasoning ; his patience under misrepresentation ; his per- 
sistence in holding to the point ; his gratitude to Wharton 
for supporting the claims of science at the Admiralty, and 
to the Lords of the Admiralty for their support at the 

Sir David Gill's relations with the Admiralty officials 
were always most cordial. Sir Richard Awdry, K.C.B., 
who came into intimate contact with him while he was 
the Account ant-General of the Navy, puts the case in a 
nutshell : " Gill overcame officialdom by the force of his 
energy and by the honesty of his purpose." 

The unofficial and official correspondence with Wharton 
is so brilliant, effective and instructive that (perhaps 
fifty years hence) it ought to be published. Here are a 
few terse examples of style. 

FROM WHARTON. 1885, April 24. I quite agree with 
you in theory as to the duty of all to strive after perfec- 
tion, but I think you will find that in practice this is 
very hard to obtain when it involves much expenditure 
where a Gov 4 - office is concerned. 

To WHARTON. 1885, July 29. I have not been 
diplomatic, but I have been honest. 

FROM WHARTON. 1890, October 31. Looking back to 
what you have obtained since you started, I do not think 


you have by any means reason to be downhearted at y r 


FROM WHARTON. 1893, 'July 6. I am sorry for y r 
Library. The Financial Secretary struck it out. You 
must fight again. If you get it you are lucky. You 
sh d see the Admiralty library ! ! ! [He die! fight, and did 
get it.] 

To WHARTON. 1893, November 15. I fully appre- 
ciate the real kindness of y r letter, but I cannot say 
with truth that I can follow the good advice you give. 

FROM WHARTON. 1894, June 14. The Admiralty 
have been fighting hard for you, and have written stronger 
letters than I ever saw to the Treasury. 

To WHARTON. 1901, July 9. I am glad to say that 
I have never yet made a proposal to the Admiralty which 
has not sooner or later been adopted, in every case with 
success ; nor have I ever wasted public money. 



Stellar parallax the Sun's mean distance Splendid work Dr. 
Auwers' visit Laborious reductions Co-operation by 
foreign astronomers. 

GILL'S third voyage to the Cape, in 1887, must have been 
a relief and rest after the turmoil of opposition he had 
gone through, and an occasion of pleasing rumination 
on things accomplished, combined with joyful anticipa- 
tion of great results. He must have felt very happy in 
knowing that he had with him, on board the same ship, 
not only the wife who was ever such a support in bright 
or in dark times, but also that loved heliometer for which 
he had so striven, with whose aid he might hope to accom- 
plish so much. But a retrospect of his labours at Paris, 
and the position assigned to him in the great astrographic 
work, by the unanimous acclamation of all those true 
men whose opinions he valued, must have given him a 
new sense of responsibility, and a new feeling of power 
to do great service to his beloved science. 

In the breezy air of the Atlantic, and the clear breath 
of the trade-winds, all the petty onslaughts of men whose 
names would be forgotten in a generation must have 
seemed paltry; for they had not interrupted his work, 
and had incidentally revealed to him the strenuous 
support which he might always expect from the really 
great men like Adams, Stokes, Rayleigh, Struve, Kapteyn 
and Auwers, who had in this matter been active in helping 



After Gill's return to the Cape in 1887 the Photographic 
Durchmusterung progressed* splendidly. He had some 
difficulty in getting the Admiralty to sanction the 
greater astrographic telescope, and a suitable observa- 
tory for it, with which to do his part in the Interna- 
tional chart. Meanwhile the new .heliometer was set to 
work upon star distances until, in the years 1888-9, & 
could be used on the minor planets, Iris, Victoria and 
Sappho, so as to settle finally the problem of the sun's 
mean distance. These years were perhaps the most 
fruitful for astronomy in the whole of his life. 

The result of the great Paris Congress laid much re- 
sponsibility upon Gill's shoulders. His labours, assisted 
by discussion with Kapteyn, and those of Admiral 
Mouchez, were much impeded by a few critics, ready to 
find fault with anything proposed, and unable to suggest 
any better course of action. This hostility, coming from 
men who might have helped, was, of course, easily over- 
come, but was unpleasant to any one devoted to the 
interests of true science, and led the layman in astonish- 
ment to exclaim with Virgil 

"Tanaene animis ccelestibus irae!" 

The more serious trouble was with the Admiralty in 
getting the photographic telescopes, with suitable observa- 
tories, for Greenwich and the Cape, to take part in the 
great astrographic work. It demanded unceasing atten- 
tion and correspondence. Often he became despondent 
when the officials six thousand miles away were stupid 
and made needless difficulties, or were badly advised. 

In the end he got his way as usual, as is concisely stated 
in the following letter 


AugUSt 22, 1888. 

MY DEAR KNOBEL, Two days ago I received the fol- 
lowing telegram 


" Admiralty London to Astronomer Cape Town. 
Telescope will be ordered in England. Financial details 
mailed. Send specification Dome and square building." 

But that is a matter of no consequence now. [Certain 
disputes.] The great thing is that the Telescopes [at 
Greenwich and the Cape] are sanctioned. . . . 

But it is such a pity to quarrel. Let us rather work. 
There is so much to be done and so much to be thought 
out, and there appear to be so few who are working and 
thinking. Always sincerely yours, DAVID GILL. 

Certainly Gill was doing plenty of working and think- 
ing in the cause, as is shown by a mass of correspondence 
on all sorts of details. The rdseau which he had invented 
for measuring photographs in the Dun Echt expedition to 
Mauritius proved to be a most valuable accessory, not 
only for certifying all absence of shrinking in the films, 
but also for facilitating the measurement of star positions 
on the plate with the help of a machine he devised. 

Gill's perseverance in overcoming the difficulties in 
securing the astrographic telescope are told in a letter 
to Mr. Knobel. There was no scientific man in England 
more esteemed than Sir George Gabriel Stokes, and 
Gill never appealed to him for assistance in a righteous 
cause without success. 



1888, October 13. 

MY DEAR KNOBEL, . . . As I told you before, I 
wrote to Stokes on July 18 a very urgent letter, begging 
him as Pres. of the R.S., and as a Member of Parliament, 
to press the matter on Gov*. either on ministers person- 
ally, or if that failed by asking a question in the House. 

I understand that Stokes and Grubb got Sir H. Roscoe 
to ask the question on 3ist July. . . . 

So soon as Stokes got my letter he went to the 
Admiralty; got hold of Lord George [Hamilton] and 
Smith [W. H. Smith] and Goschen, and Underhill 


(Ass*, hydrographer) writes me that but for Stokes' 
activity and persistence we would not have got the money 
for months. 

As it is I have got now formal official authority for 

2000 for telescope. 

700 observatory and dome. 

250 a year for 5 years for skilled photographer. 

50 a year for computer to aid in exposing plates. 

50 a year for chemicals. 

This is 500 more than I asked for and, strangely 
enough, my original proposal (at some mischievous sug- 
gestion) was condemned as too costly, and I was warned 
" of the costly character of all proposals emanating from 
the Cape, and to show more care hi future." This, as 
you may suppose, roused me, and I showed that the plan 
of observatory proposed in lieu of mine would cost nearly 
as much as mine that the simultaneous view of the zenith 
by the guiding and photo-telescopes was cut off for 20 
or 30 by the proposed segmental opening, and no develop- 
ing-room and photo store was provided as in mine, and 
that the plan of paying computers at so much a plate 
to do the work would not do here. I then demanded 
that my Lords should, for my future guidance, point out 
any proposal of mine which had been unduly costly 
any proposal which had not been successful when carried 
out, or not well considered before being proposed. 

I have no reply to these questions, but my square 20 foot 
observatory, my skilled photographer and everything 
I asked for have been granted, and 500 to cover con- 
tingencies (which I did not ask for). 1 . . . 

Yes, The Observatory has made itself ridiculous, but 
I think Common and Turner meant well and no harm 
has been done to any one but themselves. Bakhuyzen 
writes me expressing his disgust at the tone of the letters 
of the Editors and Common, and says " what a contrast 
to the perfect gentleman Knobel." Others write in 
similar terms. 

What a splendid offer Lord Crawford has made to 

1 [This is only one example out of many where Gill was worried 
almost to death by stupidity, as well as by misrepresentation, at 
home. It is also one example of the way in which, by holding to 
his point, he, almost invariably, gained the wholehearted support 
of the Admiralty to his well-considered recommendations.] 


Edinburgh 1 I only regret that such fine instruments 
should be condemned to use in such a climate. . . . 

Miss Clerke 2 is here, very happy and very busy with 
star spectra. . . . 

Very busy just now with Iris 2 to 4 a.m. Always 
dear Knobel, Yours sincerely, DAVID GILL. 


February 13, 1889. 

MY DEAR COPELAND, I have been inordinately busy 
for the past month or two, and have each mail-day 
postponed writing to you, because I said to myself I can 
write more at length next mail. But my letter has been 
too long postponed now, and must wait no longer. 

Therefore believe me and indeed you know right well 
that it is no lack of cordiality or good will that has delayed 
the congratulations on your app* to Edinburgh which 
I wd now send to you. You will have a most desirable 
position in every way except perhaps in clearness of sky 
the most delightful society and an equipment second 
to none in Great Britain. 

It is indeed a noble gift of Lord Crawford's to the 
Scottish nation and I am sure that in your hands the 
outcome will be much good solid work for the advance- 
ment of Astronomy. 

What is your staff to be ? what the general plan of the 
buildings? what instruments are to be mounted ? In all 
these things I take the very deepest interest, and any 
information about them would be most welcome. 

I can hardly think without a sigh of those foundations 
at Dun Echt which I laboured to make so satisfactory 
and sound all swept away and yet I am sure it is for 
the best interests of science that it sh d be so. You have 
a grand chance, with all y r experience, to plan a splendid 
observatory and I am sure you will. If any ideas of 
mine are likely to be useful to you by all means 
command me. 

I do not know whether you are still at Dun Echt or 

1 Referring to Lord Crawford's presentation to the nation of 
the astronomical instruments and valuable library at Dun Echt, 
now in use at Blackford Hill, Edinburgh. 

2 The celebrated authoress of historical books on astronomy. 
She paid a long visit to the Gills, and received much encourage- 
ment in her work. 


what or how ? but no doubt this will find you if addressed 
to Edinburgh. 

Here we are as busy as you must be finishing off the 
reductions of the last 5 years field work of the Geodetic 
Survey building the new Photographic Observatory 
reductions of observations of Iris observations on Stellar 
parallax every night with Heliometer and every day an 
hour and a half at its division errors finishing up the 
Photo. Durchmusterung and the regular tale of Meri- 
dian work. All my computers are drifting off to the 
Gold fields. I think I must get out some young German 
Astronomers do you know any who would come ? 

You will find delightful colleagues in Tait, Chrystal and 
Crum Brown and a very true friend in Lord Maclaren 
It is such society that one misses here and which you 
must have missed at Dun Edit. 

I am getting more and more attached to this place. 
It has a glorious climate, presents splendid opportunities 
for work, and a beautiful home is growing around us. 

The grounds which used to be a ghastly wilderness are 
now at. least tidy and are certainly picturesque. Drain- 
age, road-making, tree -plant ing, water supply have done 

We have ten times as much Society as we can deal 
with and can have as much of it or as little of it as we 
please. Only we have no Taits or Chrystals or Lord Mac- 
larens or Robertson Smiths that is what one misses. But 
we have had Miss Clerke and half expect a visit from 
Auwers in June and that is for the time ample compensa- 
tion. Mouchez wants me to come for the next meeting 
of the Permanent Committee of the Paris Astro-photo. 
Congress but it is impossible as I am to observe Victoria 
and Sappho in conjunction with the Heliometers at Yale, 
Bamberg, Gottingen and Leipzig. I have urged that 1890 
(after we have got and tested our telescopes) is the 
time for the Congress and he agrees that the really im- 
portant meeting will be then and to that I will come. 
My wife desires to join in kindest remembrances to Mrs. 
Copeland and y r self. Always dear Copeland, Sincerely y rs 


Next to his wife Gill loved his heliometer. It is 
somewhat remarkable that Lady Gill was never jealous 


either of the telescope at Skene Terrace, Aberdeen, or 
of the heliometer at Ascension or the Cape. When he 
set up the great heliometer at the Cape and remembered 
all he had gone through to perfect it and to acquire it, 
and when he first tried it upon star measurements and 
found it to be "the most powerful and convenient 
instrument for refined micro metric research in existence " 
[History, etc., p. cxlviii], he must indeed have felt the 
satisfaction of a creator in seeing that it was very good. 
And when on subsequent nights he spent a few hours 
with this second love, in getting the data for measuring 
star-distances, he would come into the house shouting 
and singing; so that his wife then said he was " daft." 

When David comes in after a night's work with his 
old heliometer he is just daft, laughing and joking. He 
was the same with the telescope in his father's garden 
when we were first married. So it was at Dun Echt, 
and exactly the same in Ascension. And so it will be 
as long as his eye can look through a telescope. 

The heliometer was soon set up ; and work commenced 
in the great attack upon star distances with this powerful 

Concerning these researches it is best to quote from 
Professor Kapteyn's obituary notice of Sir David in 1914. 

Twenty-two stars have been measured for parallax, 
either with the 4-inch or the y-inch heliometer. They 
are the only reliable determinations of stellar parallax 
ever made in the Southern Hemisphere. It might al- 
most be said that they are the first parallaxes, or at least 
the first extensive series of parallaxes, which command 
the entire confidence of the astronomers. The gain in 
probable error may not be so considerable. The gain 
in real reliability is very great. In fact, in the domain of 
stellar parallax, as indeed also in that of the solar parallax, 
Gill has given us back our belief in probable errors, a belief 
which, among astronomers, had given way to a pretty 
general scepticism. 

Why this is so is not a matter of doubt. No one can 


study Gill's work without feeling that he has to do with 
the born observer, the man with the intuitive faculty 
of finding out every possible source of systematic error 
and with the unerring judgment in devising means for 
its removal ; the man with the instinctive feeling for perfect 
symmetry by which all errors known or unknown must be 
eliminated. As a consequence we find Gill never satisfied 
with his work, as long as in any part of it the agreement 
of the several results is markedly inferior to what might 
be expected from the probable errors. It cannot be 
doubted that by the example thus given of a perfect 
arrangement of the observations and their exhaustive dis- 
cussion, Gill has contributed to the advancement of 
science quite as much and more than by the results of 
his observations themselves. 

In the years 1887-8, besides all the observations for 
getting star distances, in which he was assisted by Finlay 
and the Dutch student De Sitter, 1 there was a stupendous 
amount of work to be done in preparing the way for 
obtaining a new and definitive measure of the sun's mean 
distance by observations of the minor planets Iris in 1888, 
Victoria and Sappho in 1889. The problem of the solar 
parallax had been his first great research, a matter of 
great importance for the lunar theory, and for fixing the 
correction to star places due to the aberration of light, and 
he never desisted from efforts to improve its accuracy. 

"Nil actum reputans si quid superesset agendum." 

In the first volume of The Observatory, in 1877, Gill 
wrote what has been generally admitted to be the best 
discussion ever written upon methods for determining the 
solar parallax. He was now about to apply the con- 
clusions therein proclaimed. The arranging and planning 
of the operations involved a vast amount of preliminary 
work, calculation and correspondence, to unite in one 
plan all who were able to lend a helping hand. 

It became necessary to know very exactly the positions 
of the stars of comparison. To enable him to do this 

1 Now Professor de Sitter of Leyden. 


in the most complete manner, Gill applied to his " friends," 
a term which now included every astronomer in the 
world; and twenty-two observatories were engaged in 
finding accurate positions of the comparison stars which 
he selected. Another friend, Auwers of Berlin, undertook 
the labour of reducing for him all of these observations. 

Now he saw that a breakdown, or eye-strain, of a single 
observer would be fatal, and his assistant, Finlay, had 
other duties to attend to. No one else at the Cape 
could use the heliometer. Gill told his trouble to the 
one of his many friends who was most able to help him. 
For reply, Dr. Auwers, the great Berlin Astronomer, 
packed up his portmanteau, gave up all his own work 
and engagements, and started on a voyage to the Cape 
to give his personal services as assistant to Dr. Gill in his 

When Gill suggested this visit to Auwers he wrote 


One observer cannot possibly accomplish all the work 
here and if you neglect such a chance as this I shall 
think that my good friend has lost all his old astronomical 
enthusiasm ! ! ! Come good friend come. 


BERLIN, April 23, 1889. 

MY DEAR GILL, I am ready to leave this April 29 and 
to sail from Southampton (p. Spartan] May 3rd. So I 
hope to meet you May 23 and to begin observing with 
the heliometer the same or next evening. 


Always yours most sincerely, A. AUWERS. 

The four months spent by Dr. Auwers at the Cape 
gave unalloyed happiness to guest and hosts alike. The 
mutual esteem of these two indefatigable workers, and 
the interchange of astronomical experiences, gave to 


each an intellectual treat of the highest kind. Their work 
with the heliometer was entirely satisfactory. After 
completing the Victoria observations the two astronomers 
visited, for relaxation, the beautiful districts of Ceres, 
Wellington and Cape Point ; and the parting in September 
was heartrending. 


September 17, 1889. 

MY DEAREST GILL, To-morrow morning we expect to 
reach Madeira. [Here follows a description of the voyage.] 
My head becomes too giddy in the close saloon to write 
you more, and to express to you so as I should like, how 
happy and thankful I continue to feel, and always shall 
be, on behalf of all friendship and kindness bestowed upon 
me by you and your wife during these beautiful months. 
I hope to hear from you very soon, and hope to hear 
only good news that both of you are well, that the 
triangulation has made satisfactory progress, and that 
Sappho is not too faint, and Mrs. Gill not too anxious 
about the state of the sky, and that you both still miss 
me a little, and think of me nearly so often and so friendly 
as I do of you. Yours most truly, A. AUWERS. 

It is only by reading the Cape Annals that astronomers 
can learn what a huge undertaking was involved for 
the observations on these three planets, and still more 
for their reduction. It will be noticed that everything 
depended upon the exact position in space of each observer 
at the time of his observations. And his position is 
affected by (i) the rotation of the earth on its axis, 
(2) its course round the sun affected by planetary per- 
turbations, and (3) by the same as affected by the moon's 
attraction. This last depends upon the true mass of the 
moon. It is a most striking commentary upon the pre- 
cision of these investigations that Gill was able to detect 
periodical irregularities in his results due to the fact that 
the accepted mass of the moon was wrong. It was only 
by choosing a new value for the moon's mass that these 
irregularities could be eliminated. Thus by three months 

[To face page 190. 



of observations on Victoria with the extraordinary exact- 
ness of his methods he enabled us to measure the deflection 
of the earth in her orbit by the moon more accurately 
than could be done by all the solar observations of a century 
collected by Le Verrier for use in computing his Tables. 

As a matter of fact, this final check upon the results 
could not be effected with the planetary tables com- 
puted for the Nautical Almanac, where 7-figure logarithms 
only were used. So Dr. Tietjen of the Berlin Nautical 
Almanac Office undertook to recalculate these tables for 
Gill with 8-figure logarithms, taking note of all planetary 

This discovery of an error in the accepted value of the 
moon's mass, and of its effect upon the earth's position, 
is delightfully told in a letter to Newcomb, with whom 
he discussed every step in this great work. 



1892, December 13. 



But now let me go into a matter that has stirred me 
to the depths, and which I think will stir you also. 

You will remember that I divided the Victoria obs M 
into 15 groups. . . . 

When the first two or three groups were solved I was 
a little melancholy at the way in which the values of the 
resulting Aa (or x's) came out however, light very soon 
came out of the darkness. 

When I proceeded to plot the Aa's on a piece of paper 
I was astonished to find that every one dropped into a 
regular curve, and as group after group came out every 
value of Aa dropped within o"'03 or o"'04 of the same 
curve. And not only that but the Declinations have 
a smaller curve of the same period, and not only that 
but the maximum and the minimum of both curves will 
tell you almost to a day when the moon's longitude is 
90 from that of the planet and in fact you have the 
curve of the lunar equation ! ! 


Gill then remarked that his Mars observations at 
Ascension in 1877 showed the same periodical lunar effect. 
From this date he neverrbeased urging upon Newcomb 
the completion of his new tables of Mars, that he might 
then use his 1877 observations at Ascension for improving 
our knowledge of the moon's mass. 

The labour involved both in the observations and in the 
reductions, which latter demanded renewed efforts when 
the extreme accuracy of the former became apparent, 
was enormous the success complete. 

So soon as the preliminary reductions demonstrated 
the unprecedented accuracy of these observations, Gill 
was urged by astronomers to hasten the complete 
reduction of the invaluable results obtained by him. 
Simon Newcomb wrote 

I thought that I was making Astronomical tables for 
the 20th Century, but you have obtained results for the 
2ist or 22nd Century. 

And Tisserand, Director of the Paris Observatory, 
wrote, " C'est une veritable triomphe pour l'astronomie 
de precision." 

Unfortunately, at this period the Admiralty refused 
for a time the necessary computers, refused even to 
replace those incidentally lost to the observatory. This 
was done on the advice of the Astronomer Royal, who 
considered they ought not to encourage such observations 
of minor planets as were outside of Greenwich work, nor 
the reduction of observations many of which were of 
foreign origin. 



1891, January 14. 

MY DEAR NEWCOMB, I am in the midst of a fight 
with the Admiralty about a proper provision of com- 
puters. I have already spent Pickering's (Miss Bruce 's) 
100 in advance, at least it will be done at the end of 

1887-90] 'GO/ AND HE 'WENT' 193 

another month, and I am then pushing on the Victoria 
and Sappho work at my own cost. 
This is of course between ourselves. 


1891, August 26. 

MY DEAR NEWCOMB, . . . I write to tell you 

ist. That y r kind letters re reduction of observations 
of Victoria and Sappho duly reached me and were of 
the greatest service. 

The first asking whether it was only money I wanted, 
and that you c d probably get that for me, I showed to 
Lord Herschell the Lord Chancellor of the last Gov*. 
He was very indignant about the meanness of the 
Admiralty and spoke to Mr. Goschen the Chancellor of the 
Exchequer. Goschen wrote to say that the matter had 
never gone to the Treasury . . . and Goschen advised 
L d Herschell to tell his friend to apply again to the 
Admiralty. This I did and y r semi official letter 
coming in the nick of time I added it. Three weeks 
passed without a sign and L d Herschell wrote to ask 
me if I had had no answer I said none. He wrote, 
"Shall I go for L d George Hamilton? " (First Lord of 
the Admiralty) I said "go," and he " went." Three 
days after I got the money. 

I have had several similar skirmishes. 

There is further correspondence on this subject with 
Newcomb May 30, 1894. The results obtained from 
the three planets agreed within their probable error, 
and confirmed the values yielded by Gill's preliminary 
attempts in his Juno and Mars expeditions in 1874-5 
and 1877-8; and are universally accepted as correct 
within less than a thousandth part of the amount. His 
definitive value for the sun's mean distance is 92,876,000 
miles. 1 

It will be seen from this cursory narrative how cordially 
the whole world of astronomers were always ready to 
assist David Gill in his great undertakings, confident that 

1 Corresponding to a horizontal equatorial parallax of 8"*8o2. 


his careful preparation and " dogged persistence " would 
carry the most laborious ^endeavours to a successful 
issue. They felt themselves amply rewarded by being 
enabled to participate in the enterprise, especially when 
dealing with the planet Victoria, which rpay be described 
as one of the grandest astronomical researches ever carried 
out through the energy of a single dominant personality. 
It was Gill's personality that led Elkin first to visit 
the Cape to use the helio meter, to obtain one at Yale, 
and to share in Gill's labour that led Schur and Peters 
and Hartwig to add their quota of heliometer observations 
that led Auw r ers to reduce for his use the great mass 
of observations of comparison stars that led the directors 
of twenty-two observatories to observe all the comparison 
stars that led Dr. Tietjen to compute for him the 
planetary perturbations. Lastly, it was affectionate 
esteem that led Auwers to sacrifice everything to lend 
his personal help. This was the man who, on Gill's 
death, wrote 

I have lost a really true and dear friend after 40 years 
of common work in which we always were pleased to join, 
fully sure that the one could rely upon the other. 

We may search the memoirs and biographies of the 
most esteemed and the best loved astronomers of all 
times, from Tycho Brahe, Kepler and Newton, to the 
great da}^s of the Herschels and Struves, of Bradley, 
Argelander, Adams and Airy, without finding any 
parallel to this intense confidence, devotion and affection, 
universally inspired and held, by the simple, unselfish 
and essentially human character of this great, big-hearted 



THE last chapter dealt with star photography and the 
use of the new heliometer for finding the distances of the 
sun and stars. In these observations Gill attained to 
the very zenith of his observing powers. Many years 
passed before his photographic Durchmusterung and his 
solar parallax work were fully reduced and published. 
These two publications alone would have laid astronomers 
under a permanent debt to him. Fortunately, they are 
only two, out of many, of Gill's contributions to exact 
science while at the Cape. 

It is a pleasure now to be able to give some letters 
showing another side of the man. They illustrate 
Gill's keen desire to help any one who sought his advice 
and introduce us to one of his most esteemed friends, 
a charming personality, Miss Agnes Clerke, the great 
historian of nineteenth-century astronomy. 

Mrs. Gill had made her acquaintance, and was charmed 
with her artistic temperament. During their visit to 
England in 1887 she begged her husband to read Miss 
Clerke 's History of Astronomy during the Nineteenth 
Century, in spite of his belief that no woman could do 
justice to his noble science. Reluctantly he took up 
the book. As he read page after page his interest and 
astonishment grew. After he had read it through he 
was convinced of the intellectual power and originality 
of the authoress. 





CAPE OF -GOOD HOPE, December 6, 1887. 

MY DEAR Miss CLERKE, It was real good of you to 
write me ; I cannot tell you how welcome was your letter 
of , October 10, and how still more welcome is the 
prospect of hearing from you as you can find time. Six 
thousand miles away from the centres of intellectual life 
give a value to such letters as yours which you can 
hardly understand. In fact, it is one of those experiences 
which it would be worth your while to learn something 
of. You who write so much to interest astronomers 
would be able better to understand what they want to 
hear if, knowing what you do, you were to remove 
yself from the centre of information for a while and 
come out here, and feel a little of the thirst to know 
what is going on. 

Now you do not say anything about the matter of y r 
coming out to see us, which you really seriously enter- 
tained, and which my wife and I hope one day ere long 
to see realized. It would do you a world of good, and 
me a world of good also, just to have real good talks 
about all the things you are in the midst of. 

This book of yours would, I am sure, have a far higher 
value if you realty practically knew something of prac- 
tical astronomy, and you should observe a little bit just 
to be able to write better about things practical. There- 
fore I beg you very seriously to consider the matter, and 
try so to arrange your plans and engagements as to allow 
you to leave London about the first or second week of 
August next and come out for a month or two to see us. 
September is the most delightful month of the year, the 
observatory hill is a carpet of wild flowers, and the 
weather is simply perfect. 

Now for your letter. 

The photographic matter on the lines of the Congress 
stands thus. [Here follow several pages detailing the 
progress, and want of progress, of the Astrographic chart 
and catalogue.] 

Meanwhile the little Durchmusterung is going on 
apace. Woods is working every night till midnight, and 
then one of the computers takes up the work of exposing 
at midnight and goes on till dawn. 

The new plates give me the same result in half an 


hour that the old plates gave in an hour. Kapteyn is 
getting on with the reductions, but he has 5 or 6 years' 
work before him. Still, the work will be out before the 
other has well begun. 

I am very sorry to have missed Young he is a man I 
have long wished to know. 

Every word about y r book interests me greatly. Yes, 
go on to the end before you turn back that is best and 
then rewrite or recast it as necessary. But I think you 
will find that after you have driven what you have 
written upon a special subject out of y r head, and then 
after a lapse of time turn back, you will be more pleased 
with what you have written than you were before, and 
that only where fresh thought or study have put matters 
in a new light or brought out something you did not 
know before, then only will you require to alter what 
was written. 

I fear that my mills grind very slowly and that I 
shall have very few facts for you unless you can wait 
4 or 5 years, when I hope to have quite a batch. The 
Heliometer is erected and the trying work of determining 
its constants, such as screw errors, etc., is going on. I 
have been much worried by batteries for the illumina- 
tion, but have at last got Treasury sanction for funds to 
provide a Dynamo, etc. We have a steam engine. The 
instrument is simply exquisite, and I expect very refined 
results. [Then follow details of working programme, 
stellar parallaxes, etc.] 

I have lots more to say, but I have already got to a 
disgraceful length. My wife sends a few lines, and we 
both send all kind wishes to you and yours. Y r sincere 
friend, DAVID GILL. 

P.S. I am going to keep your letters. Y r letters will 
be filed Q3, 1 the subdivision of my astronomical corre- 
spondence formerly occupied by poor Prof r . Winnecke. 


CERES, CAPE COLONY, April 15, 1888. 

MY DEAR Miss CLERKE, I am quite ashamed when I 
look at the date of your delightful letter of Jan* 9. It is 

1 Airy's system of keeping correspondence. 


not very easy to find an excuse, so I shall plead none, but 
go on with my story. 

First of all let me' thank fyou for your important and 
excellent article in the Quarterly, and for y r rather too 
kindly mention of my share in 'the matter of the Paris 
conference. It is rather a friend's account of a friend's 
work than the magisterial we's of a reviewer. M}^ photo- 
graphic friend's name is Allis, not Aldis. The article as 
a whole is a most admirable one. 

But now to explain our whereabouts. Here we are 
and have been for the past 9 days in one of the prettiest 
villages in South Africa, situated in a basin amongst the 
mountains about 80 miles from Cape Town, and a little 
over 1500 feet above sea level. In winter the surrounding 
mountain tops are covered with snow. 

The summer has been an exceptionally hot and trying 
one, and in fact I felt the need of a rest for my last trip 
home was so far the reverse of a rest that I was most 
thankful to get on board ship, where no letters or proof 
sheets could reach me, and I might lapse into the life of 
a cabbage for three weeks. 

Then I had hard work on arrival and countless things 
to do, and I had no time to get over a rather sharp nerve 
tension, the result of overworry from many causes, some 
of which you know, and which continued after my arrival 
at the Cape. The settlement of these was followed by 
our hot weather and a bilious attack a deferred result 
of too many Paris, London and other dinners and so 
some change and rest were desirable. 

So with our Admiral (Sir W. Hunt Grubbe), Major 
Morris, R.E. (in charge of field work of the Survey and 
our guest at the Observatory), Dr. Curtis (Surgeon of the 
Naval Hospital at Simons Bay), and Mrs. Currey (a 
friend of my wife's), we came up here for rest and change. 

I will get you some photographs of the place on our 
return to Cape Town and send them for y r South African 
album these will convey to you some idea of our sur- 
roundings, and when I add a perfectly blue sky, genial, 
bracing air, and a comfortable hostelrie, you will under- 
stand how suitable is the place for our purpose. 

The mornings we spent lazily, wandering about pick- 
ing up Tadpoles and sundries for Morris' microscope, 
eating grapes, gathering figs and mushrooms, etc., etc. 
Then lunch at one o'clock, and off for an hour or two's 

i88 7 -8] RESTING AT CERES 199 

drive to some farm, where partridges or snipe might be 
found shot till sunset and returned to dinner. After 
dinner a game at whist and pipes and then to bed. 

Thus I became so idle that I did nothing except to get 
perfectly well and I am happy to say my wife did the 
same. Now I feel that I must begin to do something, 
and that first something is a letter to you. Then I pro- 
pose to write a business letter or two, and then to have 
4 or 5 days' regular shooting early and late and then 
back to the dear old Observatory again. 

Now for matters astronomical. Of course I have no 
results to communicate and only that all goes well, and 
that I am working first at the parallax of the brightest 
stars. For less bright stars I am not sure but that 
photography may be found the easiest plan for the work 
at least for wholesale work. But it must be gone about 
differently from Pritchard's methods. A reseau must be 
employed to detect the distortion of the film in develop- 
ment. Prit chard has conclusively shown that such dis- 
tortion takes place, but he is not taking what are now 
well-known methods to counteract it. 

[Here follow details about progress with the astro- 
graphic chart and catalogue which, among other matters, 
are too extensive to be adequately discussed in this 

Our electric lighting was completed in February, and 
is a complete success. It works without a hitch, and is 
a delight and comfort unspeakable. All the instruments 
are now so illuminated, and we are already wondering 
how it was possible to observe without it. My office and 
the Library are also illuminated with electric light but 
you must come and see. Really a voyage is an excellent 
time in which to ruminate and you shall have a nice 
quiet room all to yourself to write in so that your 
literary work need not suffer. Besides, the brain must 
rest some times, and August is the time when in any case 
you would be taking y r holiday. So come you must, and 
right happy and welcome shall we make you. 

Besides, I don't see why you should remain what the 
Australians call a one-horse woman (no, they say a one- 
horse man I never heard them say woman ; it is left to 
my ungallant pen to say that) but you are not com- 
plete till you have seen and done a little practical astro- 
nomy. Your work would take a new and higher character 


after a little practical knowledge. I am no flatterer, 
and I tell yon plainly and truly that the only short- 
comings in y r book are due to the want of practical 
knowledge of practical work and that yr mistakes on 
this point would be cured by a month's seeing and doing 
of practical work. 

For our sakes, for y r own, for y r future work and for 
the cause of astronomy I beg you to come. I am glad 
y r book is to be translated into German, but sorry that 
you are so dissatisfied with the man who is doing it. 
You should read the proofs so long as y r meaning is 
understood, a little cloudiness will lend an additional 
charm to the German mind. 

I wish I were on the Council of the R.A.S. You 
should be an honorary member of that Society also. 
You deserve it as well as Miss Caroline Herschel. The 
Liverpool Society has shown a good example. Mean- 
while, can I help you about anything? If there is any 
point about which you want my opinion, or any observa- 
tion you wish made for your purposes, please let me 

I am glad you like the photographs I sent you and as 
you have a Cape Album I will send you others from time 
to time anything that I think will tempt you to come. 
Besides, what a chance for a good paper about a visit to 
a Southern Observatory. Y r impressions would be so 
fresh, y r mind so ready for all, that I think the result 
would be quite unique. 

My wife is to write with this I have said my say I 
w d I could put the matter before you in sufficiently 
tempting terms to compel you to decide to come. Re- 
member me to y r family circle and to our mutual friends, 
and believe me, always y r sincere friend, DAVID GILL. 

P.S. I omitted to tell you about our comet. It was 
discovered by Mr. Sawerthal, my secretary, whom I 
employ also as aide-photographer or rather exposer. He 
works from midnight to dawn. He watched the comet 
for a long time (during the exposure of a plate) with the 
naked eye, then ran for an opera glass, was sure it was a 
comet, and roused up Finlay, who observed it. Finlay 
had been comet-hunting in the mornings for the previous 
fortnight, and it was rather hard on him. However, the 
discovery has done Sawerthal a great deal of good 
doubling his enthusiasm. 

i88 7 -8] A HAPPY PROSPECT 201 


CAPE OF GOOD HOPE, June 16, 1888. 

MY DEAR Miss CLERKE, This is indeed glorious news 
that the mail, just arrived, brings us. How splendid is 
this resolution of yours, how kind of you to come, and, 
tho' I say it who shouldn't, what a grand thing for you 
and y r future work ! ! Yes, in y* reasons for coming you 
quote precisely what I felt most strongly when I wrote to 
you, that it is an astronomical necessity. In y r History 
of Astronomy the one weak point was your want of 
critical knowledge of practical work, and that can only 
be gained by some experience of such work. I shall 
prepare a little practical course for you, having regard to 
y r limited time, and your special purposes, and to give 
the thing zest will endeavour to give you opportunity for 
finding out a few new things which are all ready to be 
found out, tho' I have never had time to seek them. 
The spectroscopy of the Southern Heavens is absolutely 
virgin soil. A telescope with a direct vision prism on it 
and a selected list of objects, and time to examine and 
note the spectra of red and variable stars, should alone 
produce a crop of results, and then I daresay a very little 
sweeping would yield a small crop of planetary nebulae; 
all this, with y r knowledge of typical spectra, w d be very 
easy for you. But besides this you must see something 
of the old astronomy and of the pitfalls and sources of 
systematic error in delicate measures such as parallax 
work. You will see the final bringing together of the 
Cape Catalogue for 1885 and the discussion of its errors, 
comparison with other catalogues, deductions of proper 
motion, discussion of refraction, etc., etc., besides some 
curious geodetic and other matters. 

And you will arrive just in our best season, when our 
observatory hill is carpeted with wild flowers, when 
between the cloudy days the sky is a blacker blue than 
you ever see in England, when the oaks are putting on 
their brightest green, and when it is a very joy to breathe 
the sunny, fragrant air. 

Ugh we have had such a winter. Eight inches of 
rain here in May, and on the mountain side 27 inches 
within three miles of us. June has been the same till 
to-day rain every day only 8 sets of Heliometer 


observations in May and 4 in June, and only two nights 
on which star .photographs could be taken. Last year 
we had 20 nights observing in May. The contrast is 

A couple of days ago the banks of the Liesbeck River 
(artificial) broke down about half a, mile from the ob- 
servatory, and as I write the river has formed a new 
course for itself across my avenue, bursting up my 
culverts and sweeping a huge breach through the Lovers' 

June 1 8. Two fine sets of Heliometer observations 
last night with a lovely day make matters brighter. I 
shall say no more about melancholy meteorology. 

I am greatly interested to hear about Holden Winlock 
and Hagen's proposed, or so far carried out, work and 
it will be a very good and useful work when we get it. 
But now that the Lick Observatory is fairly under weigh, 
I do hope that Holden will devote himself entirely to 
original research, and to the work proper to that fine 
institution. Of course if the work was done, or Holden 's 
part of it, when he had no special observing to do, well 
and good, but a man with a 36-inch telescope, 5000 or 
6000 feet above sea level, should leave compilation to be 
done by men who have no such opportunity and dwell in 
more commonplace abodes. I shall say nothing about 
the matter, as Holden does not wish it mentioned, but I 
am much obliged to you for telling me. I have a great 
desire to see the Lick Observatory and my friend 
Holden also. He is a most charming as well as a most 
able man, and I hope he will stick to the great work 
where he has so splendid an opportunity. 


Let Halley wait. I found the remains of the founda- 
tions of his observatory on " Halley's Mount " at St. 
Helena, and if you come here via St. Helena or return 
that way you might make a pilgrimage to the spot. 

[Here follow several pages about the controversies 
concerning the astro graphic chart and catalogue.] 

I have been dipping into Lockyer's papers in Nature, 
but in honest truth I have had no time to read, mark, 

i88 7 -8] MISS CLERKE'S ARRIVAL 203 

learn and inwardly digest them but so far as I have 
gone I think he has hit on some very ingenious ideas and 
explanations but that the secrets of the universe are 
yet fully unfolded and explained I agree with you in 
thinking hardly to be the case. 

Now to come to other matters. 

[Here follow instructions about choice of a cabin.] 

Perhaps if anything turns up I shall write you next 
mail if not, we shall simply expect you and wait to 
hear by what steamer you resolve to sail. Steamers 
often arrive at night; in that case simply remain on 
board till I come for you if you come during the day 
you will probably find me at the quay before your ship 
is alongside. 

Miss Clerke is coming. Gaudeamus igitur I ! 

Always sincerely yrs, DAVID GILL. 

To Miss E. M. CLERKE 
(Sister of Miss A. M. Clerke) 

CAPE OF GOOD HOPE, September 18, 1888. 

MY DEAR Miss CLERKE, Coming events cast their 
shadows before. The peacock who had lived in retire- 
ment for some time came forth resplendent in a new tail 
the tortoise that had come from Madagascar with Father 
Perry's Transit of Venus expedition laid a nest of eggs 
the hillside became a richer carpet of flowers than ever 
we had seen before and then we knew that Miss Agnes 
Clerke must be coming. And come she has, safe and 
well. She proved herself a good sailor, made herself 
most delightful and popular on board, and is now delight- 
ing everybody at the observatory. We have rather 
burst into festivity too we are actually going out three 
times within a week a thing I have not done for years 
but my observations come on in the early morning just 
now, so that no loss of work results. 

Your sister sits opposite me in my study with a pile 
of books on either hand, which is gradually growing till 
she seems to be coming through a gate with rather badly 
built pillars on either side. 

At night she is to be found in the equatoreal weather 


permitting, engaged in flirting with the spectra of variable 
stars. But, alas, the weather has not been very favour- 
able for their proceedings and Mr. Sawerthal and she 
play duets in the evening, or my wife reads aloud 
whilst Major Morris and I smoke and y r sister occasion- 
ally loses herself in the milky way, or^ rather in specula- 
tion there anent. I am afraid you will find her a 
complete Bohemian when she returns to London. She 
was awfully indignant at first at the bare idea of ever be- 
coming Bohemian but alas, observatory air and influences 
are too much for her. You will find her quite Bohemian, 
if not " a fair Barbarian " when she comes back ! ! 
Forgive my nonsense, and believe me always sincerely 

To E. B. KNOBEL, London 


October 30, 1888. 

MY DEAR KNOBEL, I send you by Miss Clerke, who 
sails from the Cape to-morrow, a paper which, I think, 
you will care to have for the Monthly Notices. ... I 
cannot tell you how much we have enjoyed our visit 
from Miss Clerke, and we are very sorry she is unable to 
prolong it. She has acquired a great deal of practical 
knowledge which will tell effectively in her next book, 
and not only this, but she has done a good deal of original 
work on the spectra of the Southern Stars. Her first 
results will appear in the next number of the Observatory. 
I have often thought that such a work as her History 
of Astronomy during the Nineteenth Century deserves some 
recognition from the Society. It is not perhaps of the 
character to entitle her to the medal but even that is a 
question about which a good deal could be said in favour 
of her claims. In any case I think Miss Clerke may be 
fairly entitled to the honour bestowed upon Miss Caroline 
Herschel that of honorary membership of the Society. 
There are very few persons upon whom this honour might 
be conferred to whom it would be of higher practical 
value, as it would give her access of right to the use of 
the library, which she can only consult at present as a 
matter of favour. Miss Clerke is engaged just now on 
another important and more original work, and I feel 
sure that such recognition of her efforts would cheer her 

1887-8] A HAPPY VISIT 205 

in her work, which is certainly of a character which the 
Society must desire to encourage. 

The subject is hardly ripe for a formal motion in Council, 
and certainly should not be brought forward unless it is 
sure to be nearly unanimously accepted. But if you 
think well of the idea I should be glad if you would 
ascertain the feeling of other members of the Council on 
the matter. With kind regards, I am, dear Knobel, 
always sincerely yours, DAVID GILL. 

In the middle of a technical letter to Elkin we read 

6 Now 1888. Miss Clerke sailed for England last 
week. Her visit was a great pleasure to both of us. 
She plays the piano most exquisitely, as well as being 
one of the ablest women and most original of thinkers 
that I ever met. She was also a great social success at 
the Cape. She was quite at home with an Equatoreal 
before she left, and did a lot of flirtation with star 

The reader is strongly recommended to read the con- 
tinuation of letters to Miss Agnes Clerke at p. 363. 


DAYS OF SORROW (1890-6) 

Letters to E. B. Knobel Three orphan nephews adopted 
Successful results of computing Sir Robert Ball Offer 
of Cambridge professorship to Gill Mrs. Gill's serious 
illness Elkin's engagement. 

Happy is the man who can say with simplicity, " Thy will be 
done ! " CHARLES WAGNER of Paris. 

THE visit of the Gills to England in 1891 had no very 
great astronomical importance ; but it was the last time 
that they were to see Mrs. Black, the mother of Mrs. Gill. 
She died on February 9, 1892, aged eighty. 

Both before and shortly after this visit to England 
in 1891, much sorrow fell to their lot. Gill was in the 
habit of writing very intimately about private affairs to 
Mr. E. B. Knobel. 


CAPE OF GOOD HOPE, 1890, July 16. 

By this mail I am addressing a paper by Mr. H. Jacoby x 
... to Mr. Wesley [Asst. Sec. R.A.S.]. 

Jacoby has been working here at the Heliometer, and 
has made these Tables as well as done observing and 
some other computing. 

You will, I think, be pleased to hear that I have been 
elected a Corresp* Member of the Berlin Academy. I 
owe this very great honour, of course, to Auwers, but in 

1 The American astronomer who visited the Cape for the 
eclipse of 1890, stayed on for practical work at the Observatory, 
and married Miss Maclear, daughter of the Cape Astronomer, 
Sir Thomas Maclear. 



a very kind letter which he sent me he tells me that the 
election was unanimous in all its four stages. 


1890, September 8. 

My wife's mother is old and was rather dangerously ill, 
and we intended to hurry home as soon as we could. . . . 
But we have had so much better news that, in accord- 
ance with her wish, we are proposing to change our plan 
so as not to have our holiday entirely in the winter, 
which for my wife's sake I should like to avoid ; and we 
should sail from the Cape about the middle of January. 


CAPE OF GOOD HOPE, 1892, January 3. 

What a year of sadness the past one has been ! and 
the new year has commenced very sadly here also. Six 
months ago or less Finlay lost his eldest boy. He died 
of consumption at Bloemfontein and Finlay and his 
wife arrived just in time to be too late for the end. Rad, 
their next boy, who was the baby when we came, died 
within the past six hours. He has been in bed for over 
three months originally from typhoid fever incurred 
by drinking water from a tank over which some weaver 
birds had built nests, as I think I told you. Tubercular 
disease of the hip joint supervened, followed by a bilious 
attack and 12 hours' vomiting. This ruptured a blood 
vessel, and he died suddenly this afternoon from cessation 
of the heart's action. Poor Finlay is in terrible despair. 

Our own anxieties about my wife's dear sister Bessie I 
think you know, and they are still a serious load to bear. 

God grant that the silver lining of the cloud may soon 
show itself. 

In this year, 1892, Mr. Knobel visited the Cape for 
his health. 

CAPE OF GOOD HOPE, 1892, January 22. 

I send this to the Union S.S. Office in Cape Town, 
directing them to forward it to you. 


Thrice welcome, my dear friend, to South Africa. I 
would that bad- health had not been the cause of this 
visit which otherwise would be one of unalloyed pleasure 
to us. 

Mr. Knobel stayed with the Gills some months, much 
to their delight, and to the benefit of his health. 



1892, May 31. 

MY DEAR KNOBEL, We have had sad and sorrowful 
times since you left. 

Just three weeks ago I had walked from Rondebosch 
after a game of golf, and met the boy coming from the 
station with a telegram. I opened it and read, " Maggie 
died pneumonia send instructions/' 

My poor sister she had followed her husband very 
soon. 1 I got home before I realized the news and quite 
broke down. My wife first did me good, by rousing me 
to duty pointing out that I was now the guardian of 
Maggie's boys (5, 7 and 9 years old), 2 and that we ought 
to send for them : so as to bring them up by love and not 
by mere authority and that they should come to us as 
directly as possible from their mother's care. I felt this 
was right and set about making all necessary arrange- 
ments we hope they will sail on July 23. 

This and many other matters have entirely engrossed 
my time so that I could not write to you or rather 
was not in the spirits to do so. 

I am only writing now by way of explanation of my 
silence and to tell you of the delight that y r wife's and 
yr letters have given us. Mad about golf well, that 
will do you no end of good. 

Ever, dear Knobel, y r loving friend, DAVID GILL. 

From this date onwards the care of these nephews whom 
they adopted was the greatest happiness to the Gills. 

When the little Powell boys took up their quarters at 
the Observatory they became objects of life interest day 
by day to Mrs. Gill. Her husband's occupations inter- 
fered with the continuity of his attentions to them, and 

1 [Mr. Powell had died a few weeks previously.] 

2 [Lady Gill says 4, 7 and 8 years old.] 


at that time he was associated in their minds chiefly 
with the pillow-fights in which he took part. 

But he was also made use of as " the last resort " in 
cases of disobedience. Lady Gill says that he was very 
tolerant and knowledgeable in the ways of boys. When 
his wife was in terror at their quarrels, David would say, 
" Let them fight it out." 

When Mrs. Gill told Harry how cowardly it was to 
beat his little brother, the boy said, " How much am I to 
allow him to cheek me before I beat him ? " She referred 
this to her husband, who said, " The boy has right on 
his side if the young 'un is taking advantage of his being 
so little. You will find that the best answer is that he 
should wait till the next day before punishing him." As 
the quarrels never lasted more than half an hour, the 
next day brought no punishment and all went smoothly. 

During the great European war the two elder boys 
have done splendid work for their country. Captain 
Harry Powell (South Staffordshire Regiment) was killed 
in action near Ypres in December 1914. Major Fred 
Powell (The Dorsetshire Regiment) was wounded in our 
advance from the Persian Gulf, a shoulder wound, in June 

He returned to the front in Mesopotamia, was twice 
mentioned in dispatches, received the Military Cross, was 
again and more seriously wounded, and sent home to 

Bruce Powell was engaged upon engineering duties in 
South Africa. He then came to London, having made 
the voyage to give his services in the war, and got a 
commission in the Artillery. 

Extract from letters from Gill at the Cape to E. B. 
Knobel in London. 


1892, July 6. 

The mails and cables, whose arrival we had begun to 
dread, have now ceased to bring bad news as they did 


almost every week for a time, telling of the death of, or 
a disaster to, friends. 

The two last mails bring'news of a different sort : 
My good friend Auwers has received the order " Pour 
la merite," which I regard as the highest distinction open 
to a literary or scientific man; Vogel has been elected a 
Corre Member of the Berlin Academy and the R 1 Society 
of Edinburgh have done me the honour of electing me an 
Honorary Fellow (their list is limited to 20 Hon? Fellows 
who are British subjects, who must be highly distinguished 
in science or literature, and includes Owen, Huxley, Airy, 
Tennyson, Froude, Rayleigh, etc.). 

But it is again the antipodes of good news that you 
are again feeling the pains in y r head halve y r hours of 
work double y r hours of golf and take things more 


1892, July 16. 

MY DEAR KNOBEL, . . . Many thanks for all your 
kind sympathy I fear the little chaps will have sailed 
long ere this reaches you. They leave by the Tartar on 
July 23. A new species of cares are upon me already 
tuition, male or female tonsils enlarged, should they be 
cut or not should the eldest boy's wish for promotion 
from knickerbockers to trowsers be granted, etc., etc. 
[In] these things I should right gladly have had you to 
consult with. However, I daresay I shall know all about 
them very soon. 


Your triumphant account of y r golf experiences at 
first rather staggered me but I find after all that you 
have to pass through the valley of affliction like other 
mortals. But get used to the driver at any cost; you 
will never enjoy the game till you do. 

My wife is wonderfully well we both send our love to 
you and y re , ever dear old man, sincerely yours, 



CAPE OBSERVATORY, 1892, December 7. 
I am toiling away at the completion of the Victoria 
and Sappho observations. The results are of extra- 
ordinary interest and of high accuracy. The half of the 
final equations for Victoria are solved, and in a few 


weeks will be completed. The Tabular quantities and 
differential coefficients for Sappho are computed, and 
being finally revised. 


1892, December 21. 

Take the Victoria observations that are now reduced. 
They yield a value of the Q T parallax so exact, the 
different groups agreeing with such precision that I am 
confident it will be accepted by astronomers generally 
as definitive. But like the good gentleman who went 
out to seek his father's asses and found a kingdom, so 
it has been with Victoria. 

The Lunar equation, as you know, was determined by 
Leverrier from a century of Greenwich, Paris and 
Koningsberg observations of the Sun, and everybody has 
supposed it to be correct. 

The practical fact is that where the individual errors 
may and do amount to 2" or 3" (arc), as they often do in 
observations of the Q's R. A., you cannot determine by 
any number of such observations small quantities with 
the necessary accuracy. So with the Lunar Equation. 
When all the great mass of Victoria obs. made with the 
Heliometer are combined in conjunction with the tri- 
angulation of the comparison stars, we have for the first 
time in the history of Astronomy a series of planetary 
observations equal in accuracy to the most refined 
observations for stellar parallax. The result is that for 
the 15 groups into which the obs. are divided, the differ- 
ence between the Tabular and observed R. A.'s are all on 
a curve whose amplitude is over o"*i thus [sketch of a 
sine curve], and Dec! 115 also that both curves agree 
absolutely in the period of the moon's revolution the 
maximum and minimum of curves agrees with the epoch 
when the planet's and moon's longitudes differ 90, and 
the relative amplitudes agree with a correction of o"*i 
to Leverrier's value 6"'5o of the Lunar Equation. Mark 
now the extraordinary value of this. 

We have got from these observations not merely the 
most valuable determination extant of the Q r parallax 
which puts an end to all doubt about that constant, and 
therefore gives us the Earth's mass, but it gives us, com- 
bined with the Lunar Equation, by far the most accurate 
determination of the Mass of the Moon and practically 


will put our new Astronomical Constants on a sound and 
satisfactory basis. The parallactic Inequality of the 
moon will be deduced witft far greater accuracy than it 
can be observed so probably will the Nutation Constant. 

We have had the saddest news about '-the health of my 
wife's dear sister Bessie, who was just about to visit us 
at the Cape so sad and serious that we may have to run 
home for a few weeks next month. 

As it turned out Miss Bessie Black's state of health 
was now so alarming that the Gills had to make a rapid 
journey from Cape Town to Aberdeen and back at the 
beginning of 1893. 


CAPE OF GOOD HOPE, 1892, November g. 

This year our climate has gone entirely to the bad. 
The antarctic ice has come far north. It is stated that 
icebergs have been seen within 60 miles of the Cape of 
Good Hope. Be that as it may, we have had such a 
season of cloud as I have never seen before. I was up 
every morning in July, August and September for Aberra- 
tion latitude, zenith telescope observations, and just 
got three observations in each month. 


I have been plunged deep, smothered in fact, by the 
Victoria and Sappho parallax business. Newcomb has 
been pressing me to finish it by the end of the year. I 
only hope it won't finish me. 


I told you I think about the death of my sister and her 
husband within six weeks of each other, and that her 
three little boys my nephews are now with us, ages 5, 
8 and 9 years. They are fine little fellows and thriving 
splendidly. My wife is working at Latin, and is devoted 
to them. 


1892, December 28 
The Solar Parallax is 8"'8o. 

Leverrier's value of the Lunar Eq n must be reduced 
by o"'ii, and becomes 6"'^g. 


In the same year, 1892, Professor Ball succeeded to 
Professor J. C. Adams' chair, and became head of the 
Observatory at Cambridge. The following letters are 
interesting. The Chair was offered to Dr. Gill, but he 
insisted that he could do more good for astronomy by 
completing the plans of work which he had laid down for 
himself at the Cape of Good Hope. 


SHELFORD, CAMBRIDGE, February 23, 1892. 

MY DEAR GILL, I got your letter to-day. . . . Your 
telegram did not surprise me; indeed, I think you are 
quite right, and felt some compunctions in making you 
expend anything on a wire. But it was agreed ubique 
et ab omnibus that you were the man to have the post if 
you would take it, and when I spoke to you at the Royal 
nothing definite was said. Hence I and some friends 
agreed that it would not do to go on without a definite 
refusal from you. We had a faint hope that perhaps at 
the last you might give in, but we feared to get such a 
reply as did arrive. 

I can only say that I think the appointment of your- 
self would have met with applause all round. . . . 

Ever yours, M. FOSTER. 



March 9, 1892. 

I have just heard that you have been elected Adams' 
successor at Cambridge, and I write at once to con- 
gratulate you, or rather to tell you how much I think 
Cambridge is to be congratulated. I did not think they 
would be able to tempt you from Dublin, and I won- 
dered where a suitable man could be found. There is a 
noble transit circle and the makings of a grand equa- 
toreal, and I think it would have been a thousand 
pities if these had been put in the hands of a man who 
is only a mathematician. Besides all the possibilities 
which your equipment presents, there is a great mass of 
Adams' unfinished work which astronomy stands sorely 
in need of. 


When George Darwin was made Plumerian Professor I 
urged him to take up the Theory of Jupiter's Satellites, and 
the construction of new tables. He began the work, and 
after labouring for some time went to Adams to discuss 
some of its points with him. Adams took him to a closet, 
whence he produced papers showing that all Darwin had 
been working at for a year had already been done by 
himself, and indeed more, so, seeing that he was working 
on ground already occupied, Darwin went no further. 

If Darwin and you, in conjunction with W. G. Adams, 
would take up the editing of J. C. Adams's unpublished 
papers, you would confer a great boon on astronomers, 
and help also to erect a great memorial to your great 
predecessor. 1 The fact of the existence of these papers 
has deterred many an able young man from entering a 
field of work in which he knew that Adams had been 
working before him. 

Forgive my presumption in making these suggestions. 
I only make them now because I know that very soon 
you must have completed your working programme, and 
if my suggestion is of any value now it would then be 
too late, because your hands would be otherwise full. 

In this connexion it will not be out of place to quote 
the words of Sir Robert Ball some years later in speaking 
of Sir David Gill at a dinner at Trinity College, Dublin. 
He said 

He is one of my oldest friends. He is the most dis- 
tinguished practical British astronomer since Bradley 
who has presided over one of our national observatories. 
As Royal Astronomer at the Cape of Good Hope, he has 
made discoveries more valuable than all the treasures of 
the Rand. He now draws near to the close of his service. 
We give to him the heartiest of welcomes, not so much 
for his practical services, not so much for his great dis- 
coveries ; we welcome him as one who, with the purest 
and most single-minded purpose, has devoted himself to 
the search after truth. 2 

1 [This has been done by Professor R. A. Sampson, in associa- 
tion with the late Professor W. G. Adams, and Mr. J. W. L. 

2 Reminiscences and Letters of Sir Robert Ball, edited by W. 
Valentine Ball. Cassell, 1915, p. 274. 


The next date of importance in Dr. Gill's career was 
the year 1896, the fifth visit to England and the third 
of those which mark milestones (1884, 1887, 1896) in his 

Before that date, however, there was a renewal of the 
days of sorrow. For the year 1895 brought to every one 
in the Observatory the greatest sorrow of all. There had 
been many occasions when Mrs. Gill's ill-health clouded 
the horizon. But never for very long had her bright 
and cheerful company ceased to enliven the household. 
Never for very long had she been unable to help her 
husband's leisure moments by lively conversation, or 
by reading while he smoked quietly in the intervals of 

In May 1895 a change came, and she was utterly 

A long letter from the Cape to Professor Kapteyn, 
dated 1895, April 9, about the completion of the C.P.D., 
contains, towards its close, the following expressions 

It is a great satisfaction to me to think on no less 
authority than that of y r own dear wife that the Durch- 
musterung has not been over much work for you. I 
mean that you are physically and mentally better and 
not worse for your labours. I also congratulate myself 
that the material furnished to you however many its 
imperfections have enabled you to do so much, and to 
establish for yourself a reputation and position amongst 
the astronomers of y r time such as few men of your age 

Above all I rejoice in the true friend I have found in 
you may that friendship ever grow with our years. 



February 8, 1896. 

MY DEAR KAPTEYN, By the same mail with this 
letter I am sending to the printers my introduction to 
the Cape Photo. D m , and I owe you an apology for my 
delay. The fact is that I have been overwrought, not 

216 DAYS OF SORROW [CHAP, xvili 

so much with my work as with the terrible anxiety and 
strain connected with the nervous illness of my dear wife. 
Week after week 1 foundf myself quite unable to write 
anything, and when I was' in working condition I was 
often obliged to devote my time to correspondence and 
plans connected with the new McClean. Telescope. First 
and last I have drawn, sketched or described every detail 
of the Instrument, its Objective prism attachment, 
micrometers, spectroscope, observatory with rising floor, 
etc., etc., and in many cases discussed and re-discussed 
alterations proposed by Mr. McClean or Grubb, etc. 

The completing of the account of the Geodetic Survey 
of South Africa, of which the last proof sheet has gone to 
press, has also pressed heavily upon me as well as a 
great deal of private and other correspondence which my 
dear wife used to take off my hands. 

The Doctors seem to think she will be able to sail with 
me (accompanied by a nurse) to England on the ist of 
April. . . . 

About my Introduction I am afraid you will say, 
" The mountain has been in labour and has brought 
forth a mouse." It is indeed a very insignificant thing 
to have occupied so long a time, but I pray God you may 
never have to execute work under similar difficulties, or 
know the effort which work has cost me during the past 
nine months. 

The letters received by Dr. Gill about this period, both 
at the time of the Jameson raid and throughout the 
South African war, from men who were in the thick of 
these affairs, bear testimony to the soundness of judgment 
with which he was credited. Years hence some of these 
may be worth publishing as facts of history. The bio- 
grapher who has been privileged to read them must for 
the present be content to note the eagerness with which 
all administrators, civil, naval and military, sought his 
calm judgment in those critical times. 

One of these letters, from so distinguished an observer 
and artist as Mr. Furze, who, after a visit to the observa- 
tory, was in Johannesburg in 1895-6, is filled with interest- 
ing descriptions of what happened at the time of the 


Jameson raid, with a keen insight into deductions, shared 
by Gill, concerning revolutions and national charac- 
teristics. But these details must be omitted. The be- 
ginning and end, however, of this letter illustrate the 
value attached to that time by thoughtful observers to 
the friendship of Dr. and Mrs. Gill. The letter begins 
with the words, " My dear philosopher and friend." It 
ends as follows 

Please write and tell me how Mrs. Gill is. Give her 
my kindest regards and tell her that if I stay here long 
I feel I shall be drawn into the maelstrom of stocks and 
shares, and shall want a lot of her society to fumigate my 
moral atmosphere. 

The same year (1896) brought them joyous news from 
their dear friend Elkin in the United States. The affec- 
tion that existed between them was touching in its 
tenderness. We read in history of many a Damon and 
Pythias, of many a pair of men whose mutual affection 
left self altogether out of account. It is doubtful if ever 
there was another astronomer who had so many of these 
whole-hearted, self-denying friendships, in each one of 
which either partner was literally ready to sacrifice 
everything for his friend. The anguish suffered by 
David Gill when one of his dearest friends was in trouble 
was balanced only by his exuberance of boyish joy when 
good fortune attended him. 



1896, March 3. 

MY DEAR ELKIN, I have postponed for a mail or two 
answering your letter and its glorious good news in the 
hope that my dear wife would be able to send a few lines 
with mine. But I am sorry to say she is not yet able, 
having been not so well during the past three weeks. In 
nervous depression anything that touches the emotions 
is the thing that is most trying, and Bella feels so much 
sympathy with you in this that she is quite unable to write. 


But you know right well how truly sorry we both are 
that the bright and joyous congratulations which would 
have accompanied mine f cannot be written tho' Bella 
sends them in her heart all the same. How truly glad 
we are that the bit of yourself that you lost is coming 
back to you with a charming addition. you can readily 
imagine, and I hope with all my heart that ere long we 
shall be able to meet you in double harness as happy and 
cosy as it is possible for man and wife to be and we both 
also well and able to share your happiness. 


God bless you, old man. If an earnest, capable man 
like yourself a loyal friend as I have ever found you 
cannot make a little woman happy, then I am very much 

I can wish you and your bride no better wish than 
that you may be as happy as we have been for 25 years 
of our married life yes, and except these bonds are 
now to the present day. 

Bella joins me in loving messages to you and, if we 
may, also to HER. Ever thine, DAVID GILL. 



Home on leave Astronomical recognition of results St. Moritz 
and Paris Reversible transit circle Victoria Telescope 
Bryan Cookson. 

THE last chapter has been the narrative of a sad page 
in the story of Gill's life. But there were compensa- 
tions, and none greater than the magnificent offer by 
Mr. Frank McClean, in 1894, of a splendid telescope, 
with accessories, for the Cape Observatory. It was not 
set up and completed until 1901, so the continuity of 
the narrative will be better maintained by relegating the 
delightful episode to later pages of this chapter, and by 
now recounting briefly some important events which 
occurred during the visit to England, Paris and St. 
Moritz in 1896. 



1896, June 27. 

MY DEAR ELKIN, And so you are off, and the wedding 
trip over. Would that we could have shared some of it 
with you. But I am thankful to tell you that Bella has 
been on the whole improving in health, and the doctor 
thinks that in course of three weeks or so she will be able 
to travel to Switzerland. 

I crossed to London on the night of Thursday June II, 
to see about some business at the Admiralty, and about 
some affairs between Grubb and McClean which were 
giving trouble. 

I was staying with our old friend Adm 1 Sir F. Richards. 
On Saturday night I got a telegram from the clerk of 
Session of the Glasgow University to say that my invita- 



tion to the Kelvin Jubilee had gone to the Cape. They 
had heard I was in London, and hoped I would come. 

I started off on Sunday" night. 

It was a very grand and very interesting function. 
Representatives from all parts of the world were there, 
and many that I was very glad to meet* I was specially 
glad to see Cleveland Abbe and many others whom I 
sh d have had no other opportunity of meeting. 

The whole function was delightful to me, for Lord 
Kelvin has been one of my earliest and best friends 
and the love and reverence paid him by all were a great 
joy to me. 

I returned with Newcomb on the Wednesday and 
crossed to Paris on the Thursday and found Bella better 
during the week I had been away. Madame de Mont- 
mort had been a good angel to her, and had stayed at 
this place with her during my absence. 


I am being spoilt by kindness. Every one here is so 
kind, and on Monday they made me a Correspondent of 
the Institute (Acad. des Sciences) in succession to Cayley. 
It seems a mockery to put me to succeed such a great 
man, but indeed Cayley sh d have been elected under the 
section of geometry and not of Astronomy as he was. 

Bella joins me in love to y r dear Katy and y r self. 
Ever thine, DAVID GILL. 

It was during the residence in Paris at this time that 
on May 20, 1896, Gill received the Companionship of 
the Bath. This was the final act in an amusing comedy 
sometimes told to his most intimate friends by Gill. 
He had been told earlier that he was to be received into 
the order of St. Michael and St. George. Now, Gill 
had noted with disgust the bestowal of the K.C.M.G. on 
utterly unworthy politicians at the Cape; so, in reply, 
he flatly refused to be associated in Cape Colony in this 
way with such characters. The Admiralty understood their 
astronomer, and he got the C.B. and eventually the K.C.B. 

After the Astrographic Congress at Paris in 1896, Gill 
attended there the important meeting of the Directors 

1896-1901] HIS RESULTS ACCEPTED 221 

of National Ephemerides [alias Nautical Almanacs], who 
had to decide upon some of the astronomical constants 
to be adopted in their calculations. At this congress 
Gill's value of the Mean Solar Parallax (and the sun's 
distance), with the resulting value for the constant of 
Aberration, also his value of the Mass of the moon, with 
the resulting value of the constant of nutation, all derived 
from his Minor Planet work by heliometer, were definitively 
accepted by those astronomers from all parts of the world, 
who calculate the data of national nautical almanacs. 

From Paris they went to St. Moritz for Mrs. Gill's health, 
and before returning to London Gill was able to pay a 
visit to Professor Kapteyn at Groningen, where he became 
a great favourite with the Professor's children. 


LONDON, 1896, October 15. 

... I arrived from Berlin on Saturday last . . ., but 
only called at the R.A.S. to-day, and found the photo- 
graphs and the dear lassies' letters. ... I had such 
a delightful time at Groningen, and am greatly delighted 
with the photographs. I will write my little sweet- 
hearts in a few days. 

It was during his home visit in 1896 that Gill put 
forward his proposals for erecting at the Cape a transit 
circle specially designed by himself for overcoming many 
of the systematic errors which limit the accuracy of 
fundamental astronomy of position. The Admiralty, 
on the advice of Admiral Wharton, supported him. The 
request was immediately granted by the Treasury. 

At this date, 1896, the boundary of German South- 
west Africa was a source of diplomatic friction. Gill's 
surveys covered part of that region, and after a consul- 
tation at the Colonial Office he was sent by Mr. Joseph 
Chamberlain to Berlin that a modus vivendi might be 
created. His intimate knowledge of the situation and 
his tactful conduct were rewarded with success, and he 


received the thanks of the Foreign Office. The boun- 
dary survey was afterwards carried out, Gill acting as 
Director for both governments. 

Having briefly indicated some of the incidents attend- 
ing the visit to Europe in 1896, it may be well to state 
now that there were only two later visits home, in 1900 
and 1904, before the final departure from South Africa in 
1906. The former of these was the first real holiday 
which he had enjoyed since he went to the Cape in 1879. 
The latter was much occupied in preparations for the 
visit in 1905, of the British Association for the Advance- 
ment of Science, to South Africa, the local arrangements 
for which were left almost entirely in Sir David Gill's 
hands. During both of these absences he was able to 
leave the conduct of the observatory in the able hands 
of Mr. S. S. Hough, who eventually succeeded him on his 
retirement in 1907. The great reversible Transit Circle 
and the Victoria Telescope were not completed until 
1901-2. Of these we will now say a few words. 

The Transit Circle is the principal instrument used by 
astronomers for finding the absolute positions of any 
heavenly bodies, and the only kind of instrument that 
has been proved to be fit for obtaining the fundamental 
data of astronomy. But all instruments made by human 
hands are imperfect, and Gill considered that it was 
the first duty of a practical astronomer to reduce these 
imperfections to a minimum. What his duty afterwards 
may be is well expressed in a letter to Professor Kapteyn 
from the Cape, dated so far back as 1885, January 18. 

But however perfect an instrument may be (and it is 
the astronomer's business to see that it is perfect], it is 
the astronomer's further business to look upon it with 
complete and utter mistrust. 

Gill had discovered, in 1877, a personal error, in 
using the transit circle, varying with the magnitude of 
the star; and, in 1880, one depending on the star's 

1896-1901] THE NEW TRANSIT CIRCLE 223 

traversing the wires from left to right or from right to 
left. Again, he had noticed the inequalities of tem- 
perature inside and outside the conventional transit 
house, and these create errors by atmospheric refraction. 
Temperature-changes affect the levels of the piers upon 
which the instrument rests, as well as their uprightness, 
and also affect the size of the circle divisions and their 
distance from the reading-microscopes. The local heat- 
ing from an observer's body or from the illuminating 
lamps may be sufficient to introduce error. There is 
always a certain flexure of the telescope tube varying 
with the altitude of the star observed, and he had found 
that the strain is not always in the same plane as the 
stress. The meridian marks employed to test the setting 
of the instrument cannot always be fixed with absolute 

Gill sought for remedies to reduce all these and other 
sources of error to a minimum, and his completed design 
was certainly original. In the hands of almost any 
other man it would have been condemned as experi- 
mental. When the writer inspected it, during con- 
struction, at the works of Troughton & Simms, the late 
Mr. James Simms made some remark which meant : 
" No one but Gill would have ventured upon so great a 
departure from the orthodox design of a transit circle." 
A full decision as to the success of this great invention will 
be possible only after many years of actual work with it. 

The final result can be described only in technical 
language, and can be appreciated only by the practical 
astronomer who is also an engineer. Such a one, in 
studying the published description with the accompany- 
ing detailed drawings, cannot fail to be impressed by the 
ingenuity and boldness with which he overcame the 
difficulties in his way. 

A single case may be here mentioned. A very serious 
trouble arose from the absence of good foundations for 
his meridian marks. Even in his Dun Echt days he had 


been inclined to supplement his collimating telescopes by 
distant meridian -marks viewed through a lens of about 
300 feet focus as at Pulkowa. In adopting this plan he 
had to fix the marks and the lenses very firmly, with as 
little liability as possible to any kind of shifting. Under 
the conditions existing at the Cape observatory, he event- 
ually dug pits of great depth and fastened his apparatus 
to the solid nucleus of the world, the very ancient geo- 
logical formation called the Malmesbury beds, and, follow- 
ing Bohnenberger, he invented an optical device of the 
highest merit for ensuring that certain marks, on the 
top of his columns, built over the pits, should be exactly 
over certain points fixed upon the Malmesbury beds. 
The stability of these marks is now the envy of all 
astronomers. So it was with all his difficulties. They 
disappeared under his skill as an engineer and designer 
of instruments. 

The following quotation expresses the opinion of the 
astronomical world upon Sir David Gill's beautiful device 
for the meridian marks 

Azimuths determined from these marks have been 
proved so reliable that by comparison with stellar obser- 
vations even the variation of latitude, or rather the 
complementary polar deviation, may be exhibited. The 
existence of these marks rendered possible Mr. Hough's 
scrutiny of the periodic errors in R.A. of the Catalogues 
of Newcomb and Boss. 1 

Dr. Backlund, of Pulkowa Observatory, speaks of 
this instrument and its accessories as " constituting 
presently the last word of perfection." 

This opinion seems to agree with the general verdict 
of astronomers, and with that of Mr. S. S. Hough, who 
has had the experience of using it. 

One of the most delightful experiences met with by 
Sir David Gill in any part of his scientific career 
1 R.A.S., M.N., Ixxiii. 3; January, 1915. 

1896-1901] MR. FRANK McCLEAN'S GIFT 225 

occurred when Mr. Frank McClean, of Rusthall House, 
Tunbridge Wells, a distinguished spectroscopist and 
amateur astronomer, wrote to him in the following 



August 10, 1894. 

DEAR DR. GILL, It has been my wish for some time 
past to offer a large Telescope, equipped for Photographic 
and Spectroscopic work, to one of the Public Observa- 
tories in the Southern Hemisphere and by preference 
to the Royal Observatory at the Cape of Good Hope. 

With this object I have now arranged with Sir Howard 
Grubb for the construction of a Photographic Refracting 
Telescope of 24 inches aperture and 22 feet 5 inches focal 
length. Also for an Object-Glass Prism to work with it, 
having a refracting angle of 7^ degrees, and the same 
aperture. Coupled with the Photographic Telescope 
there is to be a Visual Refracting Telescope of 18 inches 
aperture. The Telescope Mounting is to give circum- 
polar motion to the Telescope up to 30 degrees within 
the zenith; the Mounting to be sufficiently elevated to 
allow a fair-sized slit spectroscope, for the determination 
of Stellar Motions in the line of sight, to be attached to 
the Photographic Telescope. Such a spectroscope will 
be subsequently provided, and also an Observatory of 
light construction. 

May I ask if you, as Astronomer- Royal at the Cape, 
would be willing to accept such an Instrument, and in 
that case if the Official Trustees of the Observatory would 
be prepared to provide any assistance necessary for its 
efficient use? 

I remain, Dear Dr. Gill, Yours faithfully, 




1894, September n. 

DEAR MR. MCCLEAN, Your letter of the loth August 
duly reached me by last mail, and I have no words which 
can adequately express my feelings on receipt of it. 

The splendid generosity of such a gift, the great scientific 


need which it fulfils, the prospect of the gratification of 
scientific hope and aspirations which I have long cherished 
and had sorrowfully beguii to abandon all these have 
been constantly in my mind since the arrival of your 

As Her Majesty's Astronomer at the Cape I thank 
you for the noble gift which you propose to make to this 
Observatory; and subject to the approval of the Lords 
Commissioners of the Admiralty, I cordially and grate- 
fully accept it. 

One can hardly doubt that such an offer will be met 
by the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty and by 
H.M. Treasury in a like generous spirit, and that they 
will be prepared to consider the question of providing 
the additional assistance necessary for the efficient use 
of the instrument. 

A copy of your letter will be forwarded by this mail 
to the Admiralty, together with a copy of this reply. 

I remain, dear Mr. McClean, Yours faithfully, 




1894, September n. 

MY DEAR ELKIN, Your kind letter of the 7th August 
came with one of the most exciting mails I ever had in 
my life. . . . 

The exciting incident of last mail was a letter from 
Mr. Frank McClean intimating his desire to present, to 
the R 1 Observatory C. of G. Hope, a refractor of 24 inches 
aperture corrected for photographic work fitted with an 
object glass prism of 7^ of the same aperture as the 
object glass. Coupled with the 24" photo telescope is 
to be an 18" aperture refractor corrected for visual work. 
The mounting to be strong enough and high enough to 
carry a large slit-spectroscope for stellar motion in line 
of sight the gift includes such a spectroscope as well 
as an observatory of light construction. The glass for 
prism and object glasses has been secured and a contract 
entered into with Grubb on May 7 for the construction of 
the whole. I fancy the whole gift means at least 8000. 

I need hardly say that, subject to the approval of the 
Admiralty, I have cordially and gratefully accepted this 
splendid gift. . . . 

1896-1901] VICTORIA TELESCOPE 227 

Fred, our second little chap, fell from his pony some 
2 months ago and broke three of his ribs, slightly wound- 
ing the lung. He is all right again. Our news about 
Bessie is as sad as ever. Thine ever, DAVID GILL. 

In a letter to Professor Kapteyn he tells of his 
astonishment and delight on receiving Mr. McClean's 
letter " which fairly took my breath away." 1 

The offer of this noble instrument by Mr. Frank 
McClean was almost the last touch required for realizing 
Gill's plans for his observatory, and enabling the Cape 
Observatory to take its place as the premier one in the 
southern hemisphere, on a par with the best of those 
already existing in the northern. By the time when this 
telescope was erected the Cape Observatory under Sir 
David Gill's guidance had risen to occupy a first place 
in all the world for the accuracy of its measurements of 
position, which are the basis of the old astronomy. 

The new telescopes and spectroscopes, with an adequate 
staff, would enable the constitution and radial motions 2 
of the southern stars to be studied as effectively as those 
of the northern stars. 

This delightful experience recalled his disappointment 
fifteen years previously, when the authorities at home 
refused their sanction to the purchase of a powerful 
telescope, or to the loan, for Gill's use, of the largest 
telescope in England, then offered by Mr. Newall. The 
capabilities of that telescope for the most refined spectro- 
scopic work have since been amply proved by Professor 
Newall at Cambridge. Perhaps if Gill's wish had 
been granted on his arrival at the Cape, he would not 
have been able to confine his attention so entirely to 
measurement of position. In that case he might not, 
at this date, when the Victoria telescope came into his 
hands, have reached the position he then held, as the 
most competent practical astronomer in the world as 

1 See p. 391. 

2 Or, velocities of stars in the line of sight. 


regards fundamental positions and micrometrical measure- 
ments. Who can say? rWhat seemed to be a calamity 
in 1880 may have been a fortunate incident for Gill, as 
well as for the science of astronomy. 

Sir Howard Grubb was the maker of -the new telescope. 
He and Gill had often worked together with scientific 
zeal harmoniously and successively. But in this case 
there was not that complete success which bound them 
together in the interests of science on so many occasions 
previously and subsequently. The delays were heart- 
rending, and the instability of mounting had to be 
corrected and the electric attachments remodelled, in 
workshops at the Cape, while the great object glass was 
returned to be refigured. It was not until 1901 that 
Mr. Frank McClean's great gift was ready for use. 

In 1897, with the fullest expectation that the instru- 
ment would be ready in that year, Mr. McClean visited 
the Cape. While there he attached his own object glass 
prism to the astrographic telescope, and was thus enabled 
to complete that remaining portion of his spectroscopic 
survey of the whole heavens which could not be completed 
from his own observatory in Kent. 

The following letter gives the impressions of Mr. 
McClean's visit- 

CAPE OF GOOD HOPE, 1897, September 4. 

We had quite a delightful visit from Mr. McClean, and 
we became fonder and fonder of him. 

He has been doing splendid work and has already 
photographed the spectra of about 100 stars some of 
them frequently and will complete here, for the whole 
sky, his photographs of the spectra of all stars to 3^ 
magnitude. . . . He has found some wonderful things 
here of which, however, I may not speak. Mr., Mrs. 
and Miss McClean arrived a fortnight or so ago. They 
are all living at the Queen's Hotel, Sea Point, and are 
all as happy as possible. 

1896-1901] MR. FRANK McCLEAN 229 

Mr. McClean pops over here as often as he pleases. 
He shows up if I go round to see how workmen are getting 
on. There is a very nice office or observer's room attached 
to the McClean building, which is his sanctum sanctorum 
of which he keeps the key. Or I may be busy writing 
at night about 11.30 p.m. when in pops Mr. McClean 
to say he has come from Sea Point to make a late night 
of it. He photographs away till daylight then develops 
his pictures and is back at Sea Point before 8.30 to 
breakfast. . . . 

I have been greatly inspired by Mr. McClean's work, 
and am burning to do somewhat similar work at first. . . . 

Yes is not Roberts [Dr. Roberts of Lovedale] delight- 
ful? He is soaking in rest and sea air and his letters 
are like a bit of a novel of Black's only with a less 
forced and more genuine ring about them. 

I paid a pilgrimage to Lovedale the other day in com- 
pany with Earl Grey. Before going home he was anxious 
to see Lovedale and to start a somewhat similar model 
of institution for training natives in Rhodesia. 

He insisted on my going with him, and we had a per- 
fectly charming 6 days together, travelling 1716 miles 
(112 of which by cart) to spend an evening a night and 
morning at Lovedale. We had glorious weather, an ex- 
cellent saloon carriage, good cook and every comfort. 
and such a crack and such stories with much tobacco. 

Mr. McClean's visit gave great happiness to the Gills, 
and was made memorable by his discovery of the exist- 
ence of oxygen in the spectra of a certain class of stars ; 
and for this discovery and his spectroscopic labours 
generally he was awarded the gold medal of the Royal 
Astronomical Society of London in 1899. 

During the period of erection of the great telescope 
Gill's correspondence with Mr. McClean seldom if ever 
missed a mail. Photographs at every stage were sent 
home, and their correspondence included discussions 
on many astronomical subjects, until Mr. McClean's 
death. 1 

After the Victoria telescope and transit circle were 
1 Mr. Frank McClean died November 8, 1904. 


set up, say from 1902, there was much tentative work 
to do, and many measurements had to be made for intro- 
ducing the necessary corrections of observed data. Up 
to the date of final departure from South Africa in 1906, 
Gill had no opportunity to complete any new researches 
with his latest instrumental weapons. 

But he was able to make a start on some researches, 
and to leave in the hands of his successor one of the 
finest and best equipped observatories in the world, 
practically built up by himself; and his successor, Mr. 
S. S. Hough, has made splendid use of it already. 

He also left to his successor a colony of workers, most 
of whom were filled with the spirit of their chief and with 
an esprit de corps which reflects honour equally upon 
Sir David and Lady Gill. 

Dr. A. Roberts was and is engaged on industrial mission 
work among natives at Lovedale, Cape Colony, and has 
an observatory where he had done splendid work upon 
variable stars which, to Gill's great sorrow, he had not 
published. They were affectionate friends and constant 
correspondents . 

At the time of Earl Grey's visit to Lovedale, Dr. 
Roberts was in Scotland, and Gill wrote to him 
about it. 



1897, August 30. 

MY DEAR ROBERTS, Y r letter of July 14 gave me much 
pleasure It was in part like a bit out of one of Black's 
novels only with a truer ring about it. You couldn't 
possibly do better than drink in the Spirit of the North 
I mean of course its long summer starless nights, its 
nooks and headlands, the screaming gulls, the smell of 
the kelp, the swish and the roar the brown-sailed herring 
boats the changing colours of the sea and all the 
glorious things that make up a contemplative dander 
by the shore into a temporary heaven. These things and 
their spirit rest a man the thick-headed laddies that 

1896-1901] ROBERTS OF LOVEDALE 231 

cannot see why things equal to the same thing must be 
equal to each other are pleasing memories rather than 
daily and hourly worries. Even free kirk ministers 
who find it difficult to understand why a variable star 
can be a thing worthy of interest to a reasonable and 
reasoning human being can become in such circum- 
stances objects of sympathetic pity rather than of 

No, my good friend, you have been getting a lot of 
human sympathy which you had long been without 
and now kind nature has said to your soul I bring you 
peace and rest, just live with me awhile. You are wise 
and have done as she bade you and you will live to be 
thankful that you have left your reductions alone till 
the nerve-healing process is complete. 

I am delighted that you have seen L d McLaren, Cope- 
land, Huggins and Miss Clerke they are all good and true 
folk, loving science. 

You will perhaps be surprised to hear that I have been 
visiting Lovedale or rather that part of Lovedale which 
remains when you are away. Earl Grey came down from 
Buluwayo on his way to England on Monday morning. 
I called on him, as an old friend, that afternoon. " Oh, 
I am delighted to see you I want a long talk with 
you. You must come with me to Lovedale ! There's no 
time for a talk now. I start to-morrow night. We go 
straight to Grahamstown, drive to Lovedale, and spend 
the afternoon on Friday, return on Saturday and see 
Grahamstown and start on Sunday morning on our way 

I had much to arrange about the Geodetic Survey with 
him which I have just started and so accepted. But 
our plans were not quite fulfilled to the letter. We were 
told we sh d arrive at Grahamstown in the afternoon 
we arrived instead 4 hours late in the dark. We were 
told that Lovedale was 30 miles off, Mr. Douglas the 
ostrich farmer was expecting us to breakfast. We found 
that Lovedale was 56 miles off and round by Mr. Douglas' 
farm it was 10 miles more so probably Mr. Douglas' 
breakfast is still waiting for us ! We reached Lovedale 
at 5 p.m. with light enough to see y r observatory and a 
few things a very pleasant dinner and evening with 
Dr. and Mrs. Stewart and family up and about early 
next morning to find most of the students away on 


holiday, but saw the fine schools and workshops, etc., 
and some little work going on, but much to admire in 
the order and beauty all around. Then Dr. Stewart 
drove us 10 miles on our way, where our cart was out- 
spanned and we reached Grahamstown hungry as hunters 
at 7 o'clock in the evening. We had two of the most 
glorious cloudless days that the heart of man could 
imagine and immensely enjoyed the whole thing. 

Earl Grey wanted information about industrial missions 
and he got it Dr. Stewart giving him a lot of notes and 

There is an English Church Missionary not far from 
King Williamstown. ... I think he will go to Rhodesia 
to start the work there. 


Ever thine, DAVID GILL. 

During this period Gill received a letter the gist of 
which lies in the following words 



September 21, 1897, 

DEAR DR. GILL, I am writing to ask you to give me 
your advice about my turning astronomer. My Father 
has a very good business, but at present I am far from 
liking the idea of entering it though it is a gold-mine. 

Yours sincerely, BRYAN COOKSON. 

The subject is introduced here to lead up to Gill's reply, 
in which we find the most illuminating facts connected with 
his first step into the ranks of professional astronomers. 
The following letter enables any one to understand how 
Sir David Gill looked back with satisfaction upon the 
great decision, which moulded his life, in 1871. 


You ask me a question so important to yourself that 
in asking it I feel sure that you must attach importance 
to my reply. 

My own experience in life is that a man is happy when 

1896-1901] BRYAN COOKSON 233 

his heart is in his work and unhappy when his work is 

I was removed from Aberdeen University before I 
had completed my 4th year's course, to fill a place in my 
father's business which became suddenly vacant by a 
difference between my father and his partner. I was in 
business for 8 years, had married, was making 1500 a 
year, and working at night in my own observatory when 
Lord Crawford offered me 300 a year to take the direc- 
tion of Dun Echt Observatory. We had no children, 
my wife knew where my heart lay. I had a little money 
with reasonable expectations of more, and in 24 hours 
Lord Crawford had my answer yes. I never regretted 
that decision my life became full of interest, and has 
so continued ever since. 

I was fortunate in my wife's sympathy, and I had 
been accustomed to a much less expensive life than you 
had done a lot of distasteful drudgery and uninteresting 
work, with few holidays and no deer-stalking ! In these 
respects you see our cases are different. 


I must say that I have found business experience of 
considerable use in my scientific career, but very dearly 
purchased at the price of 8 years otherwise lost time. 

There is no good school of Astronomy in England. 
At Cambridge you can have the necessary outfit of 
mathematics, and no doubt at Oxford also in fact, you 
have probably enough of mathematics to take up the rest 
for yourself. 

For practical work the Greenwich system (tell it not 
in Gath) has never made an astronomer. 1 The chief 
assistants are selected as young men with a sound 
mathematical but no practical training. They enter into 
chief positions where they have to superintend men who 
know much more about practical work than they do, 
and they have to pick up what they can of a hard and 
fast hide-bound system which they are taught to regard 
as unquestionably superior to all others. 


If you are really in earnest about this matter ... I 

1 [Of course Gill was well aware that though that statement 
be true, yet cases do exist of a man making himself an astronomer 
worthy of the name even under that system.] 


should like to take you here either as a student or as 
soon as there is a vacanc/ as a computer. 


I have a very nice young fellow here, de Sitter, a young 
Dutchman who has passed his Ph.D. examinations in pure 
mathematics at Groningen cum laude, and has come out 
to learn practical astronomy. He is engaged from 9 to 3 
just now in reducing my Heliometer observations for 
stellar parallax at a table near me. At night he is learn- 
ing the use of the Geodetic Theodolite and Transit Circle. 
From these he will go to the Heliometer then to the 
Equatoreal with the filar micrometer, the photometer and 
the spectroscope, and before he returns to Holland- 
some two years hence will have done some independent 
work of his own. 


When you have had a couple of years of such training 
you should be a good practical astronomer Meanwhile 
also you should keep up y r mathematical reading and 
planetary theory. Then I would say go for a year or two 
under Poincare for theory, and then there should be no 
man to compare with you as an astronomer. 



Work accomplished Geodetic survey Sir George Darwin 
British Association Retirement Wharton's death The 
completed observatory Stupendous triple problem. 

He that would enjoy life and act with freedom must have the 
work of the day continually before his eyes. Not yesterday's work, 
lest he fall into despair, nor to-morrow's, lest he become a visionary 
not that which ends with the day, which is worldly work, nor yet 
that only which remains to eternity, for by it he cannot shape his 

Happy is the man who can recognize in the work of To-day a 
connected portion of the work of life, and an embodiment of the 
work of Eternity. ' JAMES CLERK MAXWELL. 

A CHAPTER upon the Last Days at the Cape may well 
commence and end with a retrospect. David Gill's whole 
life was spent in doing the work of to-day as a connected 
portion of the work of life. His early gro pings after a 
sphere of action satisfying to his spirit ; his preparatory 
labours at Dun Echt, Mauritius, Egypt and Ascension ; 
and his transformation of the Cape establishment into 
one of the finest observatories in the world, constantly 
pouring forth its tale of invaluable results ; were all 
evidence of a continuous grappling with the work of to-day 
as a connected portion of the work of life. According to 
the dictum of his old master, he ought to be happy, and 
HE WAS HAPPY. No other words could express his out- 
look upon the world. The observatory grounds, a para- 
dise in themselves, were filled with noble instruments, the 
products of his zeal. The 6-inch Refractor, the 7-inch 
Heliometer, the Astrographic Telescope, the Zenith 
Telescope, the 3-foot Altazimuth, the incomparable 



Reversible Transit Circle, the Azimuth Marks, the mag- 
nificent photographic, spectroscopic and visual Victoria 
Telescope, and even the magnificent though uncompleted 
Clock, all bore witness that the days and years had not 
been mis-spent. 

The large staff of assistants, computers, and photo- 
graphic-plate measurers, had led to published results 
enriching the world both present and future. 

And his memory was filled with thoughts of young 
men who had sought his tutelage or assistance Elkin, 
De Sitter, Jacoby, Cookson, Franklin- Adams, Innes most 
prominently besides those of eminent astronomers in- 
cluding Newcomb and Auwers, who had shared his 
labours or enjoyed his hospitality. 

The work of the day had been continually before his 
eyes and he was happy. 

During a quarter of a century he had cumulative evi- 
dence of how the work of to-day had become a connected 
portion of the work of life, and an embodiment of the work 
of Eternity. South Africa was now better furnished than 
any other British colony with a geographic basis. The 
star catalogues and routine work of an observatory had 
accumulated. The chance afforded by a remarkable 
comet had created the Durchmusterung and led the 
world's astronomers to claim his guidance in their inter- 
national catalogue of stars. He had been allowed to 
furnish the world with a definitive value of the sun's 
mean distance, of stellar distances, the moon's distance, 
and the moon's mass. He had been able to fulfil Adams' 
wish in obtaining the mass of Jupiter and the orbital 
elements of his Galilean satellites ; and to supply New- 
comb with refined observations of star occultations and 
planetary positions ; and in many other ways had added 
to the sum of human knowledge. 

The last few years of residence at the Cape were 
important with regard to the geodetic work upon which 

1902-6] RETROSPECT 237 

he had been engaged for over a quarter of a century. 
This is one of the most important, and lastingly so, of 
all his contributions to science, both in results attained 
and in the introduction of new methods. 

Regarding the latter, he was one of the first to introduce 
the Jaderin system of measuring a base line by means of 
a catenary formed of wire under constant tension. It 
was he, too, who had most to do with introducing the 
nickel-iron alloy invar, in the form of wire, for the same 
purpose, and M. Guillaume, who has established the use 
of invar, acknowledges his great indebtedness to Sir 
David Gill. Then, again, Gill was certainly a pioneer 
in the use of refined theodolites of moderate size, and of 
the watch-telescope for checking azimuth observations. 
He also laid stress on the liability of grazing rays to 
deflections in azimuth. 

But the successful results were largely due to insistence 
upon the great principle with which he started to supply 
South Africa, in the first place, with a primary geodetic 
framework of triangulation into which all local work can 
be fitted. 

A distinguished R.E. once expressed to the writer the 
opinion that Gill would have done better by devoting 
his resources more to local map-making and less to 
scientific accuracy. The same accusation has been 
levelled against his guidance of the Astrographic Con- 
gress. History is not likely to support either contention, 
and certainly " the great apostle of the slapdash " is not 
the man to guide the proceedings of an international 
star catalogue or a vast geodetic survey. 

The great geodetic framework of South Africa inci- 
dentally gives us, by the meridian arc, most valuable 
information about the figure of the earth, refraction and 
local attraction of the plummet. 

The characteristic in Gill which has thus placed South 
Africa so far ahead of the other self-governing colonies 
was, perhaps, not so much his skill in planning and organiz- 


ing, or in selection of material and personnel, as his 
diplomacy, in getting the .great administrators of terri- 
tories to know the interests of the colony, and to render 
assistance financially and otherwise. Sir Bartle Frere 
and Sir George Colley in the first years ; later, Cecil 
Rhodes, Lord Grey, Lord Milner and many others were 
essential to the success of his projects, and he won them 
all over to lend their help. 

The climax of interest in the story of the meridian arc 
was reached in 1906, when it became absolutely necessar}^ 
to connect the Limpopo region of the Transvaal with the 
Rhodesian triangulation. The Chartered Company were 
breaking up their trained survey party after their own 
work was done. Gill urged them, by cable, to complete 
this link in the chain, but his efforts at a distance of six 
thousand miles from headquarters were unavailing. So he 
selected the man who could best negotiate, and cabled 
to Sir George Darwin, asking him to collect funds. 
Darwin was in America, and it was not until May 7 that 
he replied by cable, " Money possibly forthcoming hold 
party together." Gill cabled that a decision was necessary 
by May 24. On May 21 Darwin cabled, " I have pro- 
cured 1600 for completion survey. Can you guarantee 
it will be finished for this sum ? Impossible obtain more." 

Meanwhile, all transport had been returned from the 
surveying camps, and Gill had to start negotiations with 
the Transvaal Government. On May 31 he cabled 
through the Chartered Company, " Tell Darwin Transvaal 
has granted loan of transport. Morris and I believe 
can now finish connexion for 1600." On June 8 the 
answer came, " Inform Sir David Gill from Darwin, 
1600 has been granted only provided he guarantees 
finish connexion." And Gill cabled, " Gill accepts 
responsibility, acts of God and the King's enemies 

Sir George Darwin's subscribers were the Royal 
Geographical Society, the Royal Society, Mr. Werner, 

i 9 o2~6] GREAT ARC OF MERIDIAN 239 

Sir George Darwin, the British South African Company 
and the British Association. Thus was the situation 
saved for the great meridian arc upon which Gill had 
worked for so long, by two capable earnest men at the 
two ends of a cable six thousand miles long. They might 
well be proud of it, and we of them ! 

After Gill's retirement he never ceased in his efforts to 
connect this grand survey with the Egyptian triangulation 
in the Sudan, with the help of the Belgians and Germans, 
who own (or owned) the intervening country. His driving 
force is gone, but surely some one will continue his 
efforts not only to the Mediterranean, but also to the 
north of Europe by connexion with the Russian surveys. 

One of the outstanding events at the close of Sir David's 
directorship of the observatory (which ended in 1907) 
was the visit of the British Association to South Africa 
in 1905. He undertook the major part of the preliminary 
organization, going into every minute detail with a 
thoroughness that told severely upon his health. 

A party of European astronomers arrived a week 
before the meeting and had delightful experiences and 
discussions at the observatory. Kapteyn and Backlund 
were of the number, and the plan of " selected areas " of 
the former was elaborated. They would begin about 
half -past eleven, lunch there, and tea would arrive in a 
cloud of smoke before they seemed to have begun. 

During the B.A. meeting Gill tried to do too much 
himself, and left too little to others. For example, he 
tried to arrange the location of all the parties in the 
four trains, and he was absolutely dead beat (as, perhaps, 
no one had ever seen him before) when he came back to 
the observatory that evening, just in time for a dinner 
party. He was so tired that he could not remember 
people's names. Finally, the death of Sir William 
Wharton gave him a terrible shock. 

All these events contributed to the breakdown in 


health in the next year, which made his retirement 
imperative. Fortunately the bad effects were not per- 
manent. In England his- vigour returned, and he was 
able to throw the whole of his natural energy into the 
welfare, present and future, of the glorious science of 



1905, September n. 

MY DEAR ROBERTS, . . . Y r kind letter of the 7th 
Sept. is just to hand. Retirement in my case is urged 
by a good many circumstances. 

It is true I am fairly well in health but I have not the 
" go " I used to have. To drive a large show of this kind 
one ought to be fuller of the capacity for work of every 
kind. I do not now feel capable of observing to any 
extent to show the example of activity that a Chief 

But it is chiefly on the ground of my wife's health that 
I feel I ought to retire. She suffers terribly nervously 
every summer. She has borne great suffering on my 
account i. e. to enable me to continue here in a climate 
that is very trying for her and I do not feel that I can 
ask her to do so longer indeed, I will not, for she is more 
to me than anything on earth. 

Besides, I have found administrative work growing so 
large have been run into so many kinds of administrative 
work such a target for letters of advice, chairmanships 
and so forth references from Governments, surveys, 
boards of museums, geodetic, topographical, geological 
survey, Phil Society, Dio. College and so forth, that I 
cannot get time for quiet work that my soul longs for. 

No, my friend, the time has come for me to betake 
myself to the old country take a spell of rest and then 
go in for some quiet solid work. 

When a man begins to feel work an effort it is time to 
stop. Till a couple of years ago I found all my work a 
pleasure now I begin to find it effort and especially 
to new jobs. You have a good many years before you, 
I trust, before that time comes, but come it will. I do 
not think it right for a creaking machine to keep out more 
modern ones. 

1902-6] RETIREMENT 241 

We need not, however, discuss these matters for the 
supreme consideration is my wife's health and that 
decides me. 

I am thankful that the B.A. meeting has gone off so 
well. The local committees worked splendidly. Jo 'berg 
went wild with hospitality and entertained not the official 
party only, but every Dick, Tom and Harry who visited 
them and was a member of the B.A. One dear old lady 
for whom, at her request, I had engaged rooms at Heath's 
hotel in Johannesburg, when I asked her if she was 
comfortable, said, " Oh, yes, and the rooms are quite 
nice both for myself and my maid, but a strange man 
a man I had never seen before insists that he is to pay 
all my hotel expenses is it not embarrassing ? " I could 
only laugh and say, " Most compromising ! " 


Ever thine, DAVID GILL. 



1906, February 20. 

MY DEAR ROBERTS, . . . I am beginning to feel better 
but am still very weak and not fit for much work. I got 
enteritis at the beginning of January had 2 relapses 
and have not picked up much strength yet. 

My wife, I am sorry to tell you, is down with gastritis 
and low fever so w r e are a sorry couple, and feel that 
neither of us may face another Cape summer. . . . 

We will look out for you on your arrival. I think 
Mr. Simms of Troughton & Simms will be with us. ... 
He is coming to see his new Transit Circle. . . . 

Ever thine, DAVID GILL. 

The end of the British Association meeting so far as 
concerned the Gills was deplorable in the death under their 
roof of Admiral Sir William Wharton, the Hydrographer 
to the Admiralty, whose high scientific attainments had of 
late years been of such signal service to the observatory. 

Wharton had been one of Gill's closest friends since 
1874, and his death under the distressing circumstances 
was a terrible blow to his affectionate fellow worker. 

The subject seems too sacred to be dealt with here 


by reproducing the letters which tell of all he did for the 
mitigation of the blow to. the bereaved family. The 
writer feels, not only in this case but in many others of 
a similar nature, that he has, through a perhaps false 
delicacy, failed to exhibit fully the heartfelt solicitude 
with which David Gill spent himself in the endeavour to 
support and help his friends in affliction. 

The writer must also confess to having, in the same 
spirit, passed over many acts disclosed in the letters, in 
some of which Gill intervened either to have a well-merited 
honour conferred for valuable services, or to protect a 
worker in the cause of science from neglect or calumny. 
There is plenty of correspondence to show how he per- 
sisted and "refused every refusal," and how much his 
name came to be revered for this by families not only in 
South Africa and England but even in France and the 
United States. He kept these acts to himself in his life- 
time. It is better that even now the 3^ should remain 
unrecorded. But the writer, who has seen the letters, 
feels bound to express his admiration, which is shared 
by those who benefited from his generous tenacity. 

Even before he retired to England, European leaders 
in refined and accurate work were beginning to seek 
Sir David Gill's co-operation in advance. An example 
of this is the following letter from the official head of 
astronomy in Germany. 


MY DEAR SIR DAVID GILL, After the death of Mr. 
Chaney, Member of the International Committee of 
Weights and Measures, I wrote to Sir George Darwin, 
asking his advice with regard to the election of a 
successor. . . . 

He opens to us the possibility of gaining your per- 
sonal presence and collaboration as Member of the 
Committee. . . . 

Now, my dear Sir David, there is no scientific man in 


the British Empire who has so high merits in the great 
field of measuring and of finally extending the com- 
munity and rational development of high metrology, than 
you. Therefore, no better British Member of our com- 
mittee could be elected than Sir David Gill. 

I am fully sure of the unanimity of voices for this 
election, and I beg you to send me as soon as possible 
your answer to this proposition. 


I am, dear friend and colleague, always yours very 
sincerely, W. FOERSTER. 

Astronomically, the last years of Gill's life at the Cape 
were mainly occupied in what may be spoken of as teaching 
his valuable instruments to earn their living. 

1. The Heliometer was diligently set to work to observe 
positions of major planets. 

2. The division errors and pivot errors of the Reversible 
Transit Circle were measured, sometimes by ingenious 
methods invented by Gill, and the Repsold travelling 
wire, with improvements of his own, added. 

3. The Victoria Telescope was mainly trained and used 
for getting accurate radial velocities so as to perfect his 
method of determining the constant of aberration and 
consequentially confirming his value of the Solar Parallax. 

4. The Astrographic Telescope was steadily pursuing its 
own role for the astrographic chart and catalogue. 

5. The old Transit Circle, as a differential instrument, 
assisted the new, especially in getting out the Lunar 
Parallax from observations of the crater Mostyn A, in 
conjunction with Greenwich. 

6. The 6-inch equatoreal and other minor instruments 
were kept in order, ready for all occasional work. 

7. The " perfect clock," perhaps too complicated in 
parts of its construction owing to the suggestions of 
friends, was set up and tested. It seems to have had 
only one important defect (obviously curable), the failure 
of electrical contacts. Eventually the Admiralty stopped 


all further experiments, which cost much. This clock, 
almost certainly "capable pi becoming the most perfect 
ever constructed, 1 now, unfortunately, lies at the Cape 
Observatory incomplete and discarded. 

All accounts received from the Cape*, up to this date 
strengthen the opinion that the Cape Observatory is 
likely for a long time to be regarded as " The Gill Observa- 
tory/' fitted with Gill Instruments, operated by the Gill 
Spirit. In Nature of January 27, 1916, we read 

Although Sir David Gill retired from the direction of 
the Cape Observatory early in 1907, and died just 7 
years later, the volumes from that observatory which 
have recently been distributed are essentially his work. 
Even in the contributions of his successor and colla- 
borateur, Gill's inspiration and design are evident. It is 
not too much to say that the same spirit of energy and 
thoroughness will endure in the pages of future publica- 
tions long after his name has disappeared from the title. 
No greater tribute can be paid to the memory of a great 
man. His personal achievement was considerable, but 
beyond that his influence on others will surely live. 

It says much for Mr. Hough that he is determined to 

1 Mr. E. T. Cottingham, F.R.A.S., the distinguished horologist 
and practical clockmaker, bears witness that "the barometric, 
thermal and circular errors being cured by the air-tight casing in 
a room of constant temperature, Gill's beautiful escapement gives 
to the pendulum a very constant gravity impulse, not only free 
from clock train error, but superior to all other forms of gravity 
escapement in freedom from the varying frictions in unlocking 
the gravity arm and the oil factor on the locking face, and also 
in the greatly reduced mechanical shock." 

Mr. Cottingham, who is one of the few who are masters of the 
Reifler and other clocks of high precision, has experimented for 
years upon the Gill escapement, has entirely overcome the 
electrical trouble, and cannot foresee any cause of error. It may 
be pointed out that the impulses and recording can all be applied 
by a subsidiary astronomical clock, which would be regulated 
by comparison with the Gill pendulum in the observatory once 
or twice a day, leaving the Gill pendulum perfectly free to vibrate 
uniformly for ages, except for variations in gravity. It is not 
impossible that the Gill clock may in the future be used to test 
the uniformity of the earth's rotation from century to century. 
The escapement is described in the British Association Reports, 


maintain the traditions for thoroughness as a feature of 
the Cape Observatory. Under his guidance the reputa- 
tion of the observatory is growing with the years, and 
he will be able to carry on the effort with which he 
has started so successfully, thus conferring incalculable 
benefit upon astronomy of the future. 

The remaining part of this book must be largely con- 
fined to the personal characteristics of the man David 
Gill, and will include some account of his last years, in 
England, where his innate humanity found ample scope 
in the ever-widening sphere of delightful friendships that 
filled the last years of his life. 

It was a severe wrench for Sir David and Lady Gill to 
tear themselves away from the happy home and friend- 
ships of twenty-seven years in the glorious sunshine of 
the Cape. They both felt it deeply, but the health of 
both made the step imperative. 

Before proceeding to the concluding section of this 
book, and without any attempt at analysis of Gill's 
scientific researches, the writer cannot refrain from in- 
dulging in a limited and perhaps fanciful survey, from 
a new point of view, of three only from among Gill's 
most patiently elaborated, and successfully completed 
researches at the Cape. 

It has been recorded that in the first years of his 
directorship, and prior to 1884, his attention was already 
fixed upon three great undertakings involving the highest 
accuracy attainable. 

(1) Geodetic triangulation and the measurement of 
an arc of meridian. 

(2) Observations of minor planets with a powerful 
heliometer, to obtain a final definitive value of the sun's 
distance from the earth (solar parallax). 

(3) Observations of stellar displacements due to the 
observer being carried, by the earth's revolution round 
the sun, across the earth's orbit every six months, thus 
measuring the stars' distances from us (stellar parallax). 


The force that attracted .him to these three researches 
was the acknowledged difficulty and refinement of the 
necessary observations, and his belief in himself. 

Probably it never occurred to him how intimately 
these were connected. If we take a broad outlook upon 
what he actually accomplished in these three directions 
we cannot fail to be impressed by the completeness of 
his undertaking. For his own measurements alone, and 
those under his immediate control, furnished the materials 
for measuring the distances of many stars, in metres, 
and comparing these distances directly with the actual 
metallic bar which is preserved at Paris as the standard 

That he should have been the first systematically to 
attack the stellar distances, with an instrument which 
with his own hands and eyes he had proved to be equal 
to this difficult enterprise, was a splendid thing. But 
that he himself should have provided all the necessary 
steps of the measurement and triangulation, from the 
interior of the Bureau des poids et des mesures in Paris, 
where lies the standard metre, right on by continuous 
triangulation to a Centauri, Sirius, and a number of other 
stars, is a feat of measurement which has never been 
equalled, and is not likely ever to be surpassed. 

It may have been an accidental concatenation of 
circumstances and temperament that led to his doing 
all this ; it is very unlikely that he ever realized that he 
had accomplished the combined feat. That it was done, 
and done with such superlative accuracy, has evoked the 
enthusiasm of all astronomers. 

Without dealing with details about precautions, and 
checks upon the work, let us look broadly at a portion 
of what was accomplished in these three great researches. 

First, he procured a measuring bar, transported it to 
Paris, and measured upon it the exact length of the 
standard metre. 

Second, he took this to South Africa to measure a base 

i 9 o2-6] STAR DISTANCES 247 

line on the ground, a few miles long, and from this base, 
with a theodolite, he extended his survey by a series of 
triangles over an arc of meridian. 

Third, latitude observations, at the two ends of this 
arc measured in metres, gave him the means of deter- 
mining the diameter of the earth in terms of the standard 
metre at Paris. 

Fourth, taking a definite portion of this diameter of 
the earth as a base line, over which he was carried by 
the earth's diurnal rotation, he extended his triangulation 
to the minor planet Victoria. 1 This gave him the scale 
for measuring the solar system. Thus his triangulation 
gave him the diameter of the earth's orbit. 

Fifth and finally, he still further extended the triangula- 
tion which was begun in South Africa, and, using as a base 
line the diameter of the earth's orbit, over which he was 
carried by the earth's revolution round the sun, he com- 
pleted his triangulation from the bar of metal in the Paris 
Bureau to the distant fixed stars. 

Thus, without any extraneous help, he measured the 
distances of the stars with the Paris standard metre. 

Stated thus, the stupendous nature of the triple 
problem captures the imagination ! Meanwhile, practical 
astronomers, studying in sober earnest the voluminous 
records of the triple undertaking, are uplifted in admira- 
tion, not only at the unrivalled skill of hand and eye, not 
only at the mathematical instinct that guided his steps, 
but even more at the dogged persistence and steady 
effort, which enabled him to overcome every obstacle. 
Other astronomers have had the skill, other astronomers 
have had the instinct, and other astronomers have had 
the persistence and steady effort. There are few to 
whom all have been given to the degree required for the 
completion of this stupendous work. 

1 The Cape observations, by themselves, gave an accurate 
value of the solar parallax. 





Letters to Miss Violet Markham The years of anxiety during 
the war The Royal visit Lord Milner Interesting visitors. 

THE reader is now in a position to understand how far 
David Gill, the Aberdeen watchmaker, entrusted in 1879 
with great opportunities, had fulfilled the first part of his 
self-imposed ideals, the creation at the Cape of Good 
Hope of a really first-class observatory. 

Some notion can also already be formed as to his second 
ideal, to accumulate, by personal labour and superintend- 
ence, the most accurate observations possible, and a 
solid contribution to the determination of fundamental 
astronomical constants. 

In the next chapter, the story of his third ideal, the 
creation of a colony of ardent workers, or a family party, 
united by almost affectionate ties, filled with good 
fellowship and pride in their calling, will be told. 

Something must now be said of the genial influence 
and sound judgment which bound him to all worthy 
effort even outside of his observatory. 

On May 24, 1900, the Cape Argus expressed the opinion 
of Cape Town on the honour (K.C.B.) conferred upon Sir 
David Gill in words which may surprise those who are 
not aware of his influence in South Africa. 

Dr. Gill has earned his knighthood, not only by eminent 
services to science, but by equally great services to the 
Empire in the recent time of crisis. His singularly 



independent position in the Imperial as distinguished 
from the Colonial Civil Service gave to him a position 
of unusual influence, and He used it to the best advantage. 

Gill was, in political matters, not only a clear-thinking 
Aberdonian, but also an honourable patriotic Englishman, 
who had watched with shrewd judgment the self -seeking 
machinations of local politicians. His sound common sense 
in the years of the nation's trial during the S. African 
war were of immense value to his fellow townsmen and 
a help to our administrators. The later history of South 
Africa renders it needless to publish his general corre- 
spondence in this connexion. One incident will suffice 
to show the part he played throughout the crisis. 

In 1809 he wrote to Mr. Merriman an appeal to face 
the logic of facts and his own statements as to the Bond 
and Krueger schemes and to prove himself an honest 
English gentleman by forsaking the course into which 
he then seemed to be drifting. 

The beginning of the reply he got runs thus 

TREASURY, CAPE TOWN, July 8, 1899. 
MY DEAR GILL, Thank you for your kindly note. 
You seem to know nearly as much about politics as I do 
about astronomy upon which, however, I seldom give my 
opinion. . . .' 

Gill's reply to this part of the letter is worthy of the 

MY DEAR MERRIMAN, Thank you for your letter of 
this morning but forgive me if I differ from you as to 
my capacity for forming an opinion on the situation. 

I am not a professional politician it is true, but I 
may fairly claim, as a reasonably observant and intelligent 
inhabitant of this country for twenty years, to know 
very much more about its politics than you do of astro- 
nomy. You must forgive me if I go farther and say, 
that, being entirely uninfluenced by local party con- 
siderations, I am probably in a position to take a more 
unprejudiced view of the situation than yourself. 

Photo, Elliot & Fry.] [To face page 252. 


1899-1906] LORD MILNER 253 

Then he proceeds to deal with the inexorable logic of 
the argument ; and concludes with an appeal to the 
highest instincts of his correspondent. 

This aspect of Sir David Gill's activities at the Cape 
must not be left unnoticed. His calm and level-headed 
judgment was not confined to the observatory, but was 
at the disposal of all who had the welfare of his country 
at heart. It was sought and gained by all, even by the 
highest in that land. Few records of this part of his 
life, especially in the strenuous years for the colonies 
between 1899 and 1904, are of a character that now 
demand publication. But the esteem in which he 
along with his loving wife was held, is sufficiently shown 
by two letters from Lord Milner, one written at the 
moment of leaving South Africa for the last time, the 
other written in the last year of Sir David's life. 



March 28, 1905. 

MY DEAR GILL, Many thanks for your very kind 
letter, which, alas, I have no time to answer properly. 

I hope, now that I am returning to private life, you will 
drop my prefix, as I have dropped yours, and let us fore- 
gather in the future, as I hope we often may do, as old 
comrades in arms. 

Thank you for all your unfailing friendship and your 
stout support. I am glad you think I have been of some 
assistance to you in your special pursuits. I am very 
proud if I may think that. Let me add that it has been 
the greatest refreshment to me to be allowed to take an 
interest in, and to help, however little, your work. Though 
I have long ceased to " wander in the groves of Academe," 
and my life has been wholly practical, I still owe allegiance 
to the world of the Higher Interests, and you are one of 
the few people who in this country have kept me in any 
sort of touch with them. 

My only painful thought, where you are concerned, is 
regret at the continued ill health of your wife. When 
I remember how bright and charming she has often been 
in our company, and what her natural gifts are, it is 


melancholy to think of them marred by this persistent 
illness. I hope her return home may bring better days. 
With my kindest and mo'st affectionate remembrances 
to you both. I am, ever yours very sincerely, MILNER. 

47 DUKE STREET, S.W., November 13, 1913. 

MY DEAR GILL, I have to thank you for a most hand- 
some gift the History of the Cape Observatory, which 
you kindly sent to me at Sturry, and for your kind letter 
of Nov. 3 rd . The book is full of interest for me and will 
always remain a cherished possession. 

As for the letter, I can assure you that it is the greatest 
pleasure to me to find myself thus kindly remembered 
by an old friend and fellow-worker in the great S. African 
crisis of the past. I, like you, am thoroughly disgusted 
with latter day politics, and my thoughts turn more and 
more in other directions. I only wish that our paths 
crossed more often, but in this vast world of London 
even when I am in it (and I spend as much time as I can 
in the country) I but rarely come across old friends. 

I am glad to hear that your health continues so good. 
70 is no great age for a man of your natural vigour and 
elasticity, and I trust you may have many years of happy 
and useful activity before you. 

I wish you had been able to give a better report of 
Lady Gill. It is most sad to know that the old cloud 
has once more descended upon her spirit. I have such 
happy recollections of her in her good moments, and always 
found her a true friend. Pray give her my kindest 

Once more thanking you for your friendly thought of 
me, Believe me, always yours very sincerely, MILNER. 

It has been recognized by all who knew Sir David Gill 
that the social and human side of his character was as 
attractive as the intellectual. This appears even in his 
correspondence with the great astronomers of the world, 
who were also his affectionate friends. It is hardly 
possible, however, in a work of this kind, to exhibit this 
side of his character by reproducing many of these letters, 

1899-1906] SOUTH AFRICAN WAR 255 

because they teem with technical matters of little interest 
to the general reader. It is, therefore, fortunate that a 
continuous correspondence during his later days at the 
Cape is preserved, with Miss Violet Markham (now Mrs. 
Carruthers). Her acquaintance with Sir David and Lady 
Gill began in 1899, extended through the terrible times 
of the South African war, and grew into an intimate 
friendship. The letters, therefore, are among the few 
written upon certain subjects by Gill in which all his 
reserve is put aside, and his inmost thoughts are laid 

It is very remarkable that this friend should be able 
to say, " During an intimate friendship of many years 
we discussed, I suppose, most subjects on heaven and 
earth, always excepting the stars." 

It must be remarked that, although the following 
letters from Gill to Miss Violet Markham are full of 
sound judgments upon the policy of the war, and 
other matters affecting the well-being of South Africa, 
these opinions have been entirely omitted from the letters 
as quoted here, because, while they had their influence 
at the time, there is no use in raking up old dissensions. 
All of the following letters in this chapter are written 
from the Cape Observatory except when otherwise 

1900. Jan. 13. I'm afraid if I do go to Natal they 
won't hand over the command of H.M. forces to me ! . . . 
The proper way to relieve Natal is to compel Joubert to 
fall back for the defence of Pretoria. . . . But you are 
not an amateur general. . . . We have the cavalry 
camp just under the observatory windows, and you 
might fancy y r self in Piccadilly from the people you meet 
in the observatory avenue. 

1900. Jan. 19. [After writing about the war.] Here 
the irrepressible amateur General is coming out that 
warns me again to stop. . . . Mrs. Han bury is looking 
overworked. The Ladies Edward and Chas. are both 
well. I lunched with them last Saturday and took Sir 


Wm. McCormack to tea with them on Sunday when I 
met pretty Lady Henry Bentinck. Such heaps and 
heaps of interesting people about. 

1900. March 6. My dear Friend The time for three 
cheers and 10,000 hurrahs has come at last. Lady- 
smith relieved, Cronje and 4000 of his men captured 
and Kimberley open. It has been a terrible time of 

I wish I had seen you or you had been here when the 
news of Ladysmith came. It was only 10 a.m. I told 
my young men to try to work till noon, and then go 
but they couldn't, and I couldn't and at 10.30 I said, 
Go and hoist every bit of bunting and get out all the guns 
you have, and fire a royal salute and come in to me. 
And this done they all came into my room, and some 25 
of us drank the Queen's health and Roberts' and Kit- 
chener's and Buller's and French's in my best cham- 
pagne and sang God Save the Queen I tried to make a 
speech and could not l and we all went home or into 
town, to shake every one we met by the hand. 

1901. Apr. 22. The Hely Hutchinsons are making 
themselves most agreeable. We dined there 2 or 3 weeks 
ago, their first dinner party a very pleasant evening 
Lady Tullibardine, her sister Miss Ramsay (half-sister of 
the great classic) were there both delightful. The former 

5 lays the piano charmingly, the latter delighted us with 
acobite songs. They afterwards came and played 
and sang to us one day yesterday I lunched at Muizem- 
berg with them and heard some really good songs that 
Lady T. had written. . . . The plague continues, at a 
slow even average. . . . We found two dead rats in the 
grounds one we sent to Dr. Simpson proved to be plague 
stricken. This fact gave me a chance to carry out some 
much-needed improvements and reporting to the Ad- 
miralty afterwards. . . . My best news is that the little 
wife is very well. We had "our first dinner party of any 
size for a long time on the I3th June (in lieu of the I2th, 

1 [Here is the account of his speech by an eye-witness : " He 
rose to speak. Not a word could he succeed in uttering. After 
we had waited through two minutes of expectant silence, he sat 
down at the table with his face between his hands, and sobbed. 
It was the most eloquent speech he ever made."] 

1899-1906] DUKE OF CORNWALL 257 

my birthday) and on the evening of the 6th July Bella 
is to be at home to some 300 people to celebrate the 
32 d Anniversary of our wedding day. Our new Admiral 
Moore we like much. . . . All the Cape is busy getting 
up steam for the approaching visit of the Royal Duke and 
Duchess [King George and Queen Mary]. We don't 
yet know whether they will pay the observatory a visit. 
When the Duke and his late brother visited the Cape in 
1881 as midshipmen in the Bacchante, Lord Charles Scott, 
their Captain, brought them out to dinner one evening 
at the Observatory. They made great fun of making the 
Dome go round, and specially enjoyed a forbidden cigar 
when the Tutor was star-gazing. . . . 

How delightful was the worthy reception given to our 
dear Lord Milner I have written him to say that what 
he wants now is a good wife ! 

1901. Sept. 20. ... I wrote an account of my holiday 
and . . . had it typed. I send you a copy of this 
" Epistle general of St. David." [The following are 
extracts from typed MS.] 

Admiral Moore invited me to accompany him on 
board the Flag Ship to Natal, where we arrived a couple 
of days before the Ophir. . . . 

I landed with the Admiral and 8 officers at 9.30 and 
waited the arrival of the Duke and Duchess at the jetty, 
where in a pavilion were assembled the Ministers, Chief 
Officials, Mayor and Town Councillors. 

At 10 o'clock the tug with the Duke and Duchess and 
suite landed. The Admiral presented me, when the Duke 
said that I did not need an introduction as he had dined 
with me 20 years ago at the Observatory " and a very 
jolly evening we had." The Duchess was charming. 
I have seldom seen any one who lights up so wonderfully 
in speaking. 

There was a slight occasional drizzle of rain, but not 
enough to interfere seriously with a procession in open 
carriages through gaily decorated Durban then luncheon 
(about 100 guests) and then to Pietermaritzburg by 

Next day a procession to the Town Hall with an 

opening ceremony very impressive. . . . The Duke read 

his speech most effectively, every word heard throughout 

the large hall. Due credit to Natal's loyalty and service 



a touching allusion to Ladysmith and the Old Hundredth 
psalm brought a lump to the throat. 

The streets were lined with 10,000 children and many 
hundreds of boy-Cadets and all Natal besides a rousing 
welcome. In the afternoon a very fine show in the park, 
with investiture of a dozen V.C.'s and a lot of D.S.O.'s. 

The scene was a fine one long side rows of bronzed 
war-worn soldiers, with boy cadets in front of them, and 
facing the Duke and Duchess, 100 yards off, a row of 
500 Zulus in their fullest war paint and equipment. 
After the investiture the Zulus advanced in a wild sort 
of dance forming a half moon finally the Royal Party 
in the centre. It was a most weird scene the grunts 
and shouts and sharp whistles of the Zulus their waving 
arms and knobkerries, and the deep " ugh ugh " 
all together, were very impressive. Most impressive of 
all was the sudden stoppage from wild excitement. Then 
the Duke inspected them and, as he slowly walked past, 
the men of each tribe held up their hands with a deep 
" Incoos." 

After dinner a sort of Drawing Room at Gov* House. . . . 

One could write an amusing article on the Colonial 
hand-shake of the Royalty. . . . One poor man just 
touched the Duke's hand, lost his head and tried to vanish, 
but as the Duchess extended her hand some one pushed 
the victim towards her, he looked her in the face, shook 
his head in the most comical frightened way, faced about 
and bolted. Both Duke and Duchess looked at each 
other and fairly bent with laughter. 

Next morning by 10.30 we were off to Durban. . . . 
A few hours from Natal we encountered heavy wind and 
sea, which rendered it impossible to arrive on Saturday 
evening; so we slowed down to a pace that would land 
us to Simons Bay on Sunday morning at daylight. 

After breakfast on Sunday the Admiral and I called 
on board the Ophir. This is a small world. The Duke 
of Roxburgh brought me a message from my brother 
Jem in Australia, with whom he had been hunting with 
the Melbourne Hounds, and Lord Crichton had been 
riding a horse of Jem's. 

The Governor came down to call after we left, and 
the following good story came of it. The Duke asked 
the Governor to lunch. After luncheon Sir Walter was 
walking about the deck. He is one of those men who 

1899-1906] THE DUKE AND DUCHESS 259 

never forget names or faces. He saw the Commander, 
whom he had met some years before. 

Governor. "Ah, Wemyss, how are you? glad to see 

Commander. " Yes, I think I have seen your face 
before, but can't remember where. What is your name ? " 

Governor. " My name is Hutchinson." 

Commander. (Not a bit the wiser.) " Ah, yes, of 
course, Hutchinson, old boy. What are you doing out 
here ? " 

Governor. Roars of laughter. 

Commander. " What are you laughing at ? " 

Governor. " I'm the Governor." (Tableau.} 

On Monday, the Duke and Duchess entered Cape 
Town, but you have seen all this in the papers. . . . 

We took rooms in the Mount Nelson Hotel during the 
Royal Visit to save my wife the fatigue of going to and 
from the Observatory. We met most of the members 
of the Duke's Staff in this way. . . . 

Prince Alexander of Teck and the Duke of Roxburgh 
I knew before. 

Lady Mary Lygon I was much charmed with, she made 
delightful music to us one evening. 

The Duke of Cornwall does not seem very strong. 

The Duchess was very bright and easy in conversation 
and her charming manners and sweet smiles have rendered 
her immensely popular. 


The Royalties departed with all the best of our good 
wishes and amidst the greatest enthusiasm. 

1902. May 12. Only just a line. . . . 

Sir Frederick Richards and I spent the week end,, a 
fortnight ago, at Admiralty House. Lord Milner came 
on Sunday afternoon and stayed the night. We went 
up in the train together. . . . Colonel Lambton also 
came here to lunch the following Saturday and met 
Georgie Frere. 


I am looking anxiously for next mail and news of my 
wife. Playf air's report by last mail was decidedly 
favourable, for the first time. I cabled a fortnight ago 


to call in Dr. Phillips. The Kelvins had very strongly 
recommended him. . . . When you see Bella write and 
tell me all about her. 1 ?' 

1902. June 25. I am starting on Saturday for 
Johannesburg to spend the first fortnight of July with 
Lord Milner. . . . 

I saw my dear old friend L d Methuen and his wife a 
good deal when here on their way home. He was very 
cheery and interesting. I asked him to put certain 
matters in writing he told me. His written statement 
is not so strong as what he told me but I send it as he 
writes me. 

Kitchener, French and Ian Hamilton passed through 
on Monday. The Mayor caught them for lunch by the 
way, and I was one of the guests to meet them, and sat 
by French who was very interesting. 

1902. July 22. I have just returned from a visit to 
Lord Milner in Johannesburg. [Here follow notes of 
survey-plans completed with Lord Milner.] 

All these things, besides a farewell Caledonian Society 
Banquet to the Marquess of Tullibardine, a Ball (at which 
your aged friend [i.e. David Gill] danced vigorously), 
a visit to the Robinson Mine, 2 visits to Pretoria, dinner 
parties at Sunnyside (Lord Milner 's), and generally 
luncheons with pleasant people, my time was pretty fully 

It was a great pleasure to meet Lady Tullibardine again , 
and I was very sorry not to be able to accompany her as 
far as the Cape on her way home. She hurried off in 
haste a week before me in the hopes of getting back 
before Tullibardine 's Mother's death. She was too late 
after all, for the Duchess of Atholl died just as I left 

Tullibardine has done well with his Scottish Horse in 
the field and has found good posts in the Transvaal and 
Orange River Colony for over 600 of his men. [The 
remainder of letter deals with politics.] 

1902. Nov. 30. Before Bella sailed from England 
I was suddenly seized with horrid pain apparently the 

1 [Lady Gill, in 1902, was ordered home for her health for a 
few months. It was impossible for her husband to accompany 

1899-1906] PRETORIA 261 

result of a chill biliary colic . . . These attacks came 
on at night, lasted 4 to 6 hours and left one absolutely 
useless next day and of little use for a day or two more. 
Before one was fit for real work again another attack of 
the same kind followed till I had 5 or 6 of them. Dr. 
Beck ordered me off to Caledon where I had only one 
attack and I returned in 10 days to meet Bella. The 
evening of the day she arrived I had another attack 
which kept the poor little woman up till 3 in the morning. 
So we were both ordered off to Caledon together 
remained there a fortnight and then came back. I have 
only had one more attack since I came back and seem 
now to be over the affair. 

1903. July 16. Lord Milner wanted me to go up to the 
Transvaal to advise about a despatch from home. The 
War Office has wakened up to the necessity for maps 
of British Africa S. of the Zambesi. 


So soon therefore as the S.A. Ass n . for the Adv* of 
Science was over on May 4 Bella and I set off for 

We spent six days there, stayed with Mr. Davidson 
the Colonial Sec y a most charming and hospitable man- 
garden party 'd and dined with Sir A. Lawley (then a grass 
widower) with the Rose Inneses, &c., &c., and met many 
old Cape friends the Solomons, &c. . . . Lord Milner 
came to Pretoria. . . . He apologized for not asking us 
to stay with him in Johannesburg as he had Mr. and 
Mrs. Wilson (acting Lieut. Governor at Bloemfontein) 
staying with him and his house full. We stayed with 
Herbert Baker (the Architect) a very old friend. . . . 
Had glorious weather and snowballs at breakfast one 
morning ! ! Bella was bright and well. 

The Wilsons left Johannesburg the day before us and 
we joined them at Bloemfontein after a week in Jo 'berg. 
We spent 5 happy days with them. . . . Wilson gave us 
the Governor's railway coach to take us to Cape Town, 
and we both returned well and spry from our trip. 

Ten days later I started off by sea for Natal spent 
a day in Durban and 5 days in Pietermaritzburg. Sir 
Henry McCallum, the Governor, was just recovering from 
enteric fever and the Chief Justice, who was acting 
Governor was my host. . . . Pietermaritzburg was in 


the height of festivity. Cattle show, County ball, Military 
sports, tournaments, etc. So I had a good deal of fun 
with my diplomacy. 

Lady McCallum is a very pretty and charming woman 
with a keen sense of humour and very pleasing. We had 
a dance together at the ball. ... I stopped a day and 
night with Lord Milner on my way home and he seemed 
pleased with the results of my mission so far as they went. 
[Here follow remarks on political problems.] 

I have been hors de combat for a few days with another 
attack of bilious colic. . . . Bella has been wonderfully 
well since her trip to Johannesburg. 

The following two letters were written during the visit 
to Europe in 1904. 

Hotel Bristol. Carlsbad. 1904. July 7. This is the 
anniversary of our wedding day 34 years ago and we 
are just off for our honeymoon to drive off to a distant 
point in the woods, lunch there and come pack partly 
by water with 2 hours walk home. The day is glorious. 
. . . We started away from London last Friday week, 
and visited Groningen, Hamburg and Berlin. From 
Hamburg I visited a colleague at Kiel, and from Berlin 
colleagues at Potsdam and Jena. Bella rested at Ham- 
burg and Berlin whilst I was on these little vagaries. 
She was much interested . . . and was specially delighted 
with the Kapteyns at Groningen and the Repsolds at 
Hamburg. . . . We arrived here on Saturday last. The 
Doctor gives a capital account of me and thinks he will 
stop all tendency to my complaint in future. 

Villa Victoria. Carlsbad. 1904. Julyij. Our neces- 
sarily fixed plans are Leave this for Caux or Chamounix 
on the 23rd Inst. Stopping one night at Munich and 
Zurich. We should reach London on the I4th August 
go to Cambridge for the Brit. Assoc n meeting Aug. 17-24 
Leave for Aberdeen the 24th where a friend is keeping 
a bit of his moor for me. . . . We must have about a 
fortnight in London before we sail say Sept. to Oct. 5, 
and then we go for a couple of days to the Hunt Grubbes 
at the Isle of Wight, and go on board from there Oct. 8. 

1899-1906] LORD MILNER 263 

1905. March 12. There has been an enormous amount 
of work connected with the B.A. visit in Aug* 7 different 
centres to be visited and all sorts of difficulties to be over- 
come, jealousies to be appeased and so forth endless 
correspondence with local committees, governments, 
railways, Mayors, etc. So that I required a few days 
holiday and went off just a week ago to Beaufort West 
to shoot buck with Mr. Alhusen. We had three days 
capital sport and I returned on Friday evening as fit 
as a fiddle. . . . 

I had a letter last mail from Lord Grey in which he 
writes me in enthusiastic terms about the Hanbury 
Williams He says, "Hanbury Williams 1 your Nominee 
first rate, wife ditto, no trouble too great and lots of tact." 
He wants us to pay them a visit in Canada. If only the 
little wife gets well; it would be a very jolly trip after 
we leave this. 

When do you go to Canada ? I w d like to send you a 
letter to Lady Grey and write to Lord Grey about you 
at the proper time. 

1905. Good Friday. Yes I think we are all pleased 
about Lord Selbome's appointment. . . . Lord Milner 
had to have a rest. . . . 

I had such a charming letter of Good-bye, written 3 
days before he left. How he found time to do it I don't 
know but there it was full of loving friendship, and 
looking forward to the time when we should " fight our 
battles over again " in the old country. And so on with 
all sorts of kind things about my wife. 

The Kiplings went home the mail before last. . . . 
Rudyard was very well. . . . He says he has written an 
astronomical story which he dreads my getting hold of. 
It is published in some American Magazine if you get 
hold of it try and send it to me. 

Dr. Jem is doing wonders he has got his Compulsory 
Education Bill through the House. 

I don't like his plan of submitting his Estimates to a 
select committee of both sides of the house, but he says 
he likes his plan it saves him the unpopularity of cutting 
down, because he can blame the Committee and re- 
trenchment was necessary. On the other hand he says 

1 [Sir John Hanbury Williams.] 


that he will neglect the Committee's recommendations 
when he sees it necessary, and will ask the house to 
support him. 

1905. May 13. ... but first I want to tell you a bit 
of good news. 

The little wife is decidedly better, an'd has been going 
on progressively in this direction for nearly a fortnight, 
with only one little set back for a day or two. 

On Saturday of last week we both went to Muizemberg 
for a little change, spent a quiet evening at the Hotel 
after a quiet walk by the sea. I went on to lunch at 
Admiralty House on Sunday and Bella came on to pay 
her first call and have tea returned to Muizemberg 
and on Monday morning accompanied me back to the 
Observatory. [And so on about his wife's activity.] 
God grant a good time is coming to her, for she has suffered 
terribly. [The rest of the letter is devoted to the Educa- 
tion question in S. Africa.] . . . 

1906. July 2. [The letter begins with Cape politics.] 
But I am getting rid of political bile just by way of 
relief for I am sad and sore. 

My dear wife is very ill. She had been getting worse 
and worse for three weeks and tho' I hope and believe 
the worst is now past, I know it will take a long time before 
the nervous system can recover tone. ... I am awfully 
busy trying to complete the work I have in hand before 
we go. 

I suppose you know that I have to be President of the 
British Assoc n next year. I have also to serve as the 
representative of England on the Committee of the 
international Bureau of weights and measures. I have 
promised some articles for the new edition of the Encyclo- 
pedia Britannica, etc. etc. and I am not likely to lead 
an idle life at home. 

I am so glad you went to the Milner banquet I wish 
I could have been there. His speech read admirably 
tho' I remember his saying, " public speaking is not 
among my many accomplishments " and his delivery 
is far from perfect. 

I am so glad to hear Lord Milner has been to see you. 
What a good time you must have had. Plato and Greek 
philosophy I know little about but from the little I do 

1899-1906] PHILOSOPHERS 265 

know I like to tell the present day philosophers that they 
have got no " forrarder " since the days of Plato and 
it makes them so angry that I am sure it must be true. . . . 
Do read my friend Oliver's book on Alexander Hamilton 
one of the greatest of Americans. He calls it an Essay 
on American Union but you \v d ; and I did, enjoy every 
word of it. 



TRULY Clerk Maxwell was right (p. 235), and David Gill 
was happy in his work. But his happiness reached its 
climax from his personal relations with mankind, the 
inevitable reward of his selfless love for his fellows. And 
here he attained the third and crowning ideal of the perfect 
observatory; the creation of a spirit of devotion and 
united zeal in work, combined with affection in lighter 
moments, between the staff and their Chief, supported by 
his amiable wife. 

Some attempt will now be made to give a picture of 
the observatory from the point of view of the Staff. All 
great institutions governed by an outstanding personality 
give birth to tales about the Chief. Whewell and Airy 
each had their foibles and peculiarities told in tales, some 
true, others invented. 

Some of those told about Gill may be mythical, but 
most are true and all are typical. A considerable number 
of anecdotes have been received from old workers at the 
observatory. None can compare, in number or appro- 
priateness, with those furnished by Mr. John Power, 
who seems to have reached a closer intimacy with the 
real personality of his Chief than any one else in the 

One of these men writes 

He not only made the Cape Observatory renowned 
throughout the scientific world, but he made of its staff 
and of their families quite a little world of its own, a 
happy family. 



Gill's day work was done in the large room which he 
used as a study. It is now the drawing-room of his 
successor. In the corner occupied by him there was a 
large table in great disorder, about which we are told 

His office table was a constant source of worry to his 
wife and his secretary, and his method of finding a letter 
was to toss everything about until it came to hand. Then 
followed the same process to find the paper he was work- 
ing with. One day, at the secretary's suggestion there 
came a general tidy up, and the institution of a system 
of baskets for different classes of papers. This only 
served as a grievance. He said that he could not find 
things so easily ; but perhaps the truth was, he objected 
to the ever present evidence, accusing him of delay in 
answering letters not immediately concerned with the 
work in hand. 

Still, we got the Table perfectly tidy on one occasion. 
He needed a change badly but would not listen to advice. 
An assistant asked if he knew he was worrying Lady 
Gill by not taking the change. This settled matters in 
a moment and he left for Simons Town the next day on 
a long promised visit to the Admiral, and went on to 
Seapoint from which he returned with a diphtheritic 
sore-throat, and was confined to bed by an anxious wife. 
In his absence the table had been thoroughly tidied ; and, 
after his recovery, his wife never wished to see it tidy 
again . 

Concerning this illness which fortunately left none of 
the usual bad results, Sir William Morris, R.E., writing 
from Chatham about 1895, recalls his own happy life in 
South Africa and says, referring to Gill's recovery from 

I can vividly imagine your wife's mental disturbance 
on your falling a prey to that fell disease, mildly though 
you had it. How she must have missed her delight in 
reading to you and in seeing you sitting there puffing 
away contentedly and delightedly at your pipe. I see 
the dear remembered scene well enough and have often 
and sincerely wished I could wake to find myself in your 
study, where all breathed peace and rest. 


When Dr. Auwers first saw Gill's writing-table, his 
exclamation was,. " Ach ! what a table ! " But after a 
short pause he added, " Nevertheless, what good work 
has been done at it ! " 

For the first sixteen years of his residence, except at 
certain times, Gill carried on his correspondence himself. 
When it became necessary to have a secretary in his 
room his habits and moods were noted without his being 
conscious of it. It is told that 

However deeply he might be engaged upon a problem 
he would then be seated at his desk with his feet 
shuffling if any one came up to him with even a paltry 
question, he would look up smiling and attend straight 

Many people thought that things not remarked on 
escaped his notice, but really he prided himself on having 
" a genius for not seeing things which were better not 

Another assistant speaks similarly of his behaviour 
when at his desk, saying 

Gill wrote very rapidly (more so than any member of 
his staff) ; and during the time that he was his own secre- 
tary many of his own press copies of letters are too 
smudged to be readable. When an assistant came to 
consult him while letter writing he usually stopped 
instantly. But occasionally he spoke while still think- 
ing of what he was writing. On one of these occasions 
a computer asked to leave at once on receiving a wire 
saying his fiancee was ill. Without looking up, he replied, 
' Yes ! Yes ! but tell her not to let it occur again, as 
it interferes with work." The computer endeavoured 
to sting with sarcasm by suggesting that on the next 
occasion the lady should wire to Gill. The answer came 
promptly, " Yes, yes, and tell her to state fully what is 
the matter." He had spoken while thinking nothing of 
the affair, and was highly amused later on when told 
what he had said. 

On another occasion when engrossed in reading an 
assistant began his mission by saying, " In his intro- 
duction X says ." He was at once interrupted 


by the most emphatic assurance that X was a 

"damn liar." Knowing the chief, he answered, "That 
may be ; but here he is truthful," and placed the Intro- 
duction on the paper Gill was reading. This banished 
the article and brought him from the clouds ; the ques- 
tion at issue was settled and the final words were, " No. 
X is not a damn liar." 

Similarly, a secretary has a story of him, and says 

Although he had a remarkable command of temper, 
he was explosive. I remember he was reading a memoir 
by an astronomical opponent one day and I heard 
him muttering, " Liar," " Damned liar," " Shameful," 
" Ought to be shot," " Quite right," ' Very good," 
" Excellent." Then he threw the paper over to me 

saying, "Excellent paper by ." He was incapable 

of malice or revenge, absolutely. 

Such of these stories (and of those which follow) as 
are true indicate minor traits in the man's character; 
and, whether true or not, they are all illuminating as 
showing the kind of stories that his staff thought might 
be true of him. 

One of those who studied at the observatory writes : 
" In my case I measured others by what they thought 
of him ; that is perhaps as great a tribute to him as I 
could offer." 

In 1891 after much delay in starting the astrographic 
telescope, Gill brought from home the altered object- 
glass. A few days later a pure accident stripped the 
teeth of a wheel. He dreaded the further delay in start- 
ing work as the repairs must be done in England. A 
newly arrived Secretary was astounded by a monologue 
of Gill, the Photographer and Secretary being audience. 
The fresh hand slipped out to learn from an older assistant 
what had happened. On returning, the monologue was 
going strong, so, motioning to the Photographer to leave 
the room, he ventured to suggest that perhaps the work 
could be done at the railway workshops at Salt River 
(a mile away). In the next 'few minutes the Secretary 
learned something about the ignorance of any man who 


had been here only two days, and about the ways of 
railway workmen with astronomical instruments. The 
monologue continued until the Secretary began to 
wonder whether the Chief now considered him as cause 
of the accident, vice the equally guiltless Photographer 
who had retired. After a time the Secretary decided 
to try a diversion, proposing that it might be well to 
begin packing up the thing for transit to England. This 
proved a text for an eloquent lecture on indifference, 
the evils of calmness and various other supposed sins of 
people who could make such a suggestion. Finally the 
Secretary, with an aggrieved air, hinted that a listener 
would have thought at first that the Photographer, and 
later that the Secretary, had purposely done the damage. 
Gill glared for a moment, the frown gave way to a smile 
and, with a hand on the Secretary's shoulder, he exclaimed, 
" Good Lord, was I as bad as that? " In two minutes 
it was decided to try if Salt River would undertake it. 
The Photographer entering, started on explanations, but 
was silenced with, " I know. Just forget all about it." 
Later the newcomer had to tell the story to the 
assembled staff who thoroughly enjoyed it, and con- 
gratulated him upon his good fortune in bagging such a 
typical incident so soon after arrival. 

Those who knew Gill sometimes enjoyed the storms 
for the prospect of the fine weather which always followed. 

The shoulder grip was a favourite trick and one hard 
to resist. Some of his staff were always careful to keep 
at a distance when it was necessary to avoid giving in 
to him. Once during a heated discussion it was necessary 
to insist on his withdrawal of a statement made. He 
knew that this could be avoided if he could get his 
persuasive hand on the other man's shoulder so did the 
other man. The result was a kind of waltz three times 
round the large study, avoidance of the grip, and with- 
drawal as complete as could be desired. 

Rates of pay for certain work often led to amusing 
episodes ; that for taking certain photographs was fixed 
at 6d., but the men (two Greenwich men) considered it 
should be raised to gd. and after several indabas decided 
to refuse to work for less. This evidence of the supposed 
sordidness decided him to keep to the original sum, and 


among other expedients he tried to get the Artificer 
who was a good photographer to do the work. He, 
knowing nothing of the dispute, started, but, hearing of 
what had happened, found he could not master the 
details. An indaba with the two " strikers " followed. 
Very strong views were expressed, the Chief saying he 
would like to give them 500 a year each, and the strikers 
repudiating a desire for anything beyond gd. a plate. 
Later in the day the Chief was on his way to the railway 
station with a striker on each arm. 

In his own private affairs he seems to have been careless. 
One who used to be his secretary says 

He thought all were straight runners and was therefore 
easy to deceive, and was always surprised when he found 
he was deceived. I kept his petty cash and some of his 
other accounts. He never queried any it was a mere 
form sometimes I thought a private bill was stiff and 
would say so he might agree, but just wrote out his 
cheque without a further word. 

He had a high sense of duty, yet he did not like to find 
fault. When he had to do with a slacker he was very 
unhappy. He disliked cutting the Gordian knot. Yet 
in the long run unless work improved it would be cut. 
He was so easy to get on with, so unsuspecting, so kind, 
that it needed a real perversity to be out of tune with him. 
If any one did his best and it was bad he was content 
he would fit the work to the man. 

Continuing with Mr. Power's reminiscences 

Woe betide the man who neglected to mention illness 
or trouble. It was regarded as most unkind to him and 
his wife who were always most keenly interested in all 
connected with the place. When one of the men found 
that what seemed a good salary in England was starvation 
at the Cape he asked Gill's advice as to buying or building 
a house as the rents were then out of all proportion to the 
cost of the houses. The man's intention was to obtain 
the balance of the money from England. Gill went into 
the question, and when he had examined the pros and 
cons was enthusiastically in favour of building, exclaiming 
in the most emphatic way, " Buy the ground and build 
at once." He brushed aside the idea of the delay in 


getting the money from England with, " D n it, man, I 
have the money," The man had not been long in his 
service and regarded the assertion as one of his impetuous 
sayings, but, four days later, was surprised by the abrupt 
statement that from a certain date the required sum 
would be at his disposal while the house was under con- 
struction. The Chief and Lady Gill took the keenest 
interest and twice a week they walked down to watch 
its progress. 

From the Observatory to the Railway Station is about 
eight minutes' walk on an Admiralty road. On this road 
he was seldom alone, for old and young either waited 
for or overtook him. The youngsters especially enjoyed 
the walk with him, as he entered into their doings like 
one of themselves and always had a cheery word of 
encouragement or some amusing yarns to tell them. 

His idea of the position of Chief and Staff probably 
agreed with his wife's expression of it, " We are a small 
colony of exiles, and I like to feel we are one family." 

They both acted on the " one family " principle, and 
the success of the Observatory under his direction was 
due largely to the reciprocation of their feelings. He 
certainly had enthusiasm, energy and what an Irishman 
calls " a way with him," but all these would not account 
for the spirit in which work was done. His wife shared 
in bringing out what was best in the men, and giving 
them the feeling that the credit of the Observatory was 
a family affair as well as a national one. 

Many years ago the assistants made a croquet ground 
for Mrs. Gill. Later she wanted bazaars for worthy 
objects. The whole staff waxed enthusiastic, and men, 
women and children did their utmost. Perhaps the best 
incident illustrative of her influence was that in which 
a Jew and a Roman Catholic were selling tickets to wipe 
out the debt on an English Church. The Jew was charg- 
ing double the proper price, and when remonstrated 
with remarked, " Lady Gill wants money and I will see 
that she gets it." 

Gill was rather unconventional at times. He seldom 
carried an umbrella and, when he did, invariably came 
home without it. 

After one trip to England he returned with a clerical 


looking overcoat, and on being questioned blamed 
" some clerical Fellow of the R.A.S." for taking his coat. 
He had all Dominie Sampson's affection for old clothes 
or indifference to appearances. An old friend who was 
in the house when Lady Gill was absent for a few days 
was considerably worried because he persisted in wearing 
a certain " comfortable " suit ; all her efforts to effect 
a change having failed she sought the assistance of one 
of his men. It was arranged that the first of two men 
who saw him should tackle the business. The opportunity 
soon came and the Astronomer found one of the Assistants 
scrutinizing him in a way that forced the query if any- 
thing was wrong. The reply was, " I should think so 
you ought to change that suit at once, it is far from 
beastly respectable." (An expression usually applied 
by Gill to a new suit.) He attempted to defend the old 
one, but was answered with a scathing analysis of it and 
the assurance that his wife would not permit him to wear 
such a thing. This settled the question and the offending 
suit disappeared and was seen no more. 1 

He had a weakness for assisting stray callers in distress, 
especially if they were Scottish, or well educated. One 
man turned up with a piteous tale and among other items 
mentioned that he could speak and write Persian. After 
handing the man over to Lady Gill to be fed and given 
work he returned to his study in a very miserable state 
and overflowing with sympathy. He admired the appear- 
ance of the man; a member of his staff did not, and 
was rebuked for his harsh judgment of an educated man 
who, even with the ability to speak several languages 
including Persian, could not secure work. The assistant 
promptly asked what evidence there was for the Persian, 
e. g. did the Chief know enough of the language to verify 
the statement. He did not wait for the complete answer, 
but left hurriedly. 

For some days Lady Gill had good evidence that the 
fellow was a waster, but it was only when the Civil Engineer 
from Simons Town saw the man and gave the story of 
his loafing there that the Chief was reluctantly convinced. 

On several occasions he was imposed upon in this way. 
He would give a man employment and advance him 

1 [It must not be supposed that such freedom was allowed to 
all of his subordinates.] 


money out of his own pocket. Generally the case was 
forgotten with the reflexion, " Poor body ! I would rather 
be robbed over and over again, than miss helping one real 
case of distress." 

Men in his position in S. Africa have many visits from 
newcomers seeking advice or help. No trouble was too 
great if he could help any one. 

It has been noted that Sir David was particularly 
hospitable to his own countrymen, to whom his own 
broad Aberdonian accent was usually a great charm. 
Mr. E. B. Knobel visited the Gills at the Cape in 1892, 
and sends this anecdote 

One day a Scottish gentleman from Paisley landed at 
Cape Town. Gill invited him to lunch. In the course 
of the repast a rather animated conversation ensued 
between them. The Paisley gentleman spoke with the 
broadest accent of that part of Scotland, and in the heat 
of the discussion Gill's Aberdonian became more vigorous. 
I do not think the Paisley man understood him, for at 
last he said, " You're not a Scotsman, are you? " which 
convulsed Gill and drove me from the table to enjoy the 
joke with Lady Gill. 

Tom Peasoup. One of the Kroomen was a most intel- 
ligent faithful fellow, and often assisted the Chief in 
cleaning and re-erecting instruments. Tom would do 
anything to avoid Massa's displeasure. 

Peasoup came on one occasion to Lady Gill begging 
her to get him leave to go away to his brother's funeral. 

Why don't you ask leave of your master ? 

I done that. 

And what did your master say ? 

He say " I'm getting tired of these dam funerals." 

One of the less permanent members of the staff writes 

His politics so far as we could grasp were of the old 
crusted Tory type, but he often quoted B. A. Gould's 
saying that the best party in Argentina was that which 
did most for the observatory and for science. 

On one occasion he launched out on a Home Rule 
discussion with an ardent Home Ruler of whose opinions 


he was not aware. The discussion was rather brief 
because after a while he admitted that his study of the 
Irish question was practically confined to a chat with 
Lord Kelvin and concluded that " politics was a dirty 
trade," and both parties to the discussion would be better 
employed on their astronomical work. 

An enthusiastic Imperialist, the S. African War troubled 
him greatly. He was very outspoken on several occa- 
sions. A leading politician who praised his outspoken- 
ness must have been surprised to hear that he and his 
party ought to be ashamed of their silence. He really 
suffered intensely during the war and actually wept while 
reading or speaking of the casualties on both sides. 

Asked by the Colonial Government to visit Kimberley 
in connexion with Survey matters he arranged with the 
Surveyor General that his expenses should be paid, and 
to avoid the bother of keeping accounts the expenses 
were to be the difference between the amounts in his 
pocket on starting and returning. This account was 
duly rendered, but they tendered a sum larger by about 
6 arrived at by giving the daily allowance of a Colonial 
Civil Servant. He regarded this as an insult to his 
Office and sought the Railway Time Table vowing venge- 
ance. We thought he was pacified and content to write 
on the subject, but he slipped off by a later train and 
came back happy, with a cheque for the smaller sum and 
the satisfaction of having explained that the Astronomer 
took no remuneration beyond his salary from the 

In early days his go-ahead ideas were somewhat dis- 
turbing to officials at home. Any visitor from England 
was charged with messages for his guidance such as to 
deal with each subject in a separate letter, or to ask for 
one thing at a time, etc. It was often necessary for 
Admiral Wharton to warn him of the effect of his methods 
on the official mind, and the possible bad effects on the 
Observatory; the unsparing plainness of the Admiral's 
letters was much appreciated, and Gill's usual remark 
on reading a somewhat merciless chiding was "A friend 
who will hit like that is worth having." On one occasion 
he wrote, " There is no proof of friendship more sincere 
than one which involves trouble to tell a friend the truth 
especially if it is an unpleasant truth. Therefore, no 


apology is needed for your remarks. If you will always 
tell me as frankly what you think and caution me as 
wisely, I shall be 'very grateful and shall always as 
frankly confess my sins or defend my opinions." It 
need hardly be added that there was more defence of 
opinions than confession of sins. 

Once, when some one complained of an apparently 
unkind remark, he sadly said, " To think that you have 
been with me for years and don't know yet that I don't 
mean what I say ! " 

Very few trains stopped at Observatory in the 'eighties, 
and he was anxious that the last train should stop " on 
signal " to pick up one of his observers who lived at 
Wynberg. The railways are run by Government, so he 
approached the responsible Minister, who refused the 
request. A persuasive letter followed which, after 
reciting what the Observatory had done for Cape Colony, 
showed how easily the Government could assist the 
Observatory. Refusal of his small request would be 
taken as an intimation that he need send no time-signals 
in future. The request was granted. 

Many of the incidents narrated in Mr. Power's notes 
disclose a certain joy of encounter with the professional 
scribes of the Admiralty, and a delight in taking advantage 
of a false move. 

He was reported to Parliament by the Audit Depart- 
ment for not furnishing a complete list of instruments, 
books, etc. Officials in England who had no idea of 
his difficulties could not be expected to understand his 
difficulty in complying with such a request. He took 
the view that, until given the staff necessary to do this 
work it could not be done without sacrificing astronomical 
duties. In 1891 he was given a secretary one of whose 
duties was to prepare the lists and be answerable for the 
property; but the secretary refused to accept respon- 
sibility until given proper provision for storage. Now, 
for years, Gill had been anxious to convert the central 
hall into a properly fitted library instead of having the 
books scattered in different rooms on open shelves, but 
feared to ask money for such a purpose. He was quick 


to seize this lever for carrying out the project. The 
report to Parliament had not troubled him in the least, 
but suddenly he made it a serious matter. Delays in 
granting the request for shelving, etc., were given as 
reasons for the impossibility of making the lists. 

He could ill brook the delaying at home of well thought 
out projects, and any member of the staff who went to 
him directly after the mail had brought such news was 
expected to sympathize. His proposition to fix the 
meridian marks for his Transit Circle on the solid rock 
many feet below ground level had been criticized and 
the suggestion made that, if other observatories could use 
points on church steeples or public buildings, the Cape 
should do the same. (The particular observatory cited 
is in a neighbourhood bursting with such buildings, while 
there are none at the Cape.) The first entrant was told 
the proposition and asked what should be done to its 
author. He handed the letter back suggesting that the 
" mark " estimate should be withdrawn, and one for the 
building of a couple of cathedrals substituted, with a note 
that they would not be a success, and the marks would 
have to be erected later as proposed. This cheered him 
up. He resolved to do it and he did it ! (unofficially, 
of course). The marks were eventually sanctioned and 
have revolutionized the work with the principal instrument 
of the observatory. 

In Maclear's day there were very few houses near the 
observatory, and he was regarded as the natural leader 
in all local movements. Gill succeeded to this position, 
when the place was more densely populated. One of the 
public meetings over which he was called on to preside 

is described by Mr. Power. 

Local option was in force, but the sudden growth of 
the village left the voting power in the hands of people 
living miles away, so residents held a public meeting. Gill 
was chairman and naively remarked that he "liked a 
little liquor himself " ; and when a supporter of the request 
for the license thought he had put an unanswerable poser 
by asking what people were to do in case of a sudden 
need of spirits, for illness, Gill answered blandly, " Just 
send to me, or any of these gentlemen on the platform." 


A story comes from one of the men who passed through 
the Observatory -training .and went on to do good 
work in another colony. : He sends it as an example 
of absence of mind on Gill's part. It may seem to those 
who knew him better to be Gill's answer to a youngster 
who had the temerity to fancy himself as a possible 
observer with the great heliometer. 

I was one evening reading the declination microscopes 
of the Transit Circle when Sir David came in, and I plucked 
up courage to tell him of my ambition to work with the 
Heliometer. No sooner had I got the words out of my 
mouth than he bellowed, " You want to observe with the 
Heliometer? " (I thought my last hour had come.) 
" So you shall so you shall. Come up to-morrow night 
and I'll teach you how to." My relief was too great for 
words. I certainly went home that night feeling that 
my career as an astronomer had begun. 

The following evening, punctually at 6 p.m. I went 
to the " old man's " study and reminded him that he was 
going to teach me to use the Heliometer. 

" Right ! " said Sir David. " Go and set it on 
a Centauri and I'll come along." 

In about a quarter of an hour Sir David came in to 
the Heliometer, sat down on the observing chair, turned 
a few mysterious handles, and said, " Well, there you are. 
Dreadfully bad definition, perfectly damnable, but just 
you observe the distance of the components, and let me 
see the result to-morrow." 

With that he stalked out, and there ended my lesson 
in observing with the Heliometer ! I am quite sure he 
did not realize what he had come for, or that he had set 
me to make one of the most difficult observations ever 
made with that instrument. 

When Gill retired there was no difficulty about the 
appointment of his successor. When Mr. Hough was 
selected as Chief Assistant in 1898, Sir David had in- 
sisted that a candidate should be selected who might 
eventually succeed him. But who was to succeed 
Mr. Hough? 

Gill was most anxious that it should be some one 


qualified by past work to make the most of Mr. McClean's 
gift of the Victoria Telescope in the measurement 
of radial velocities. The fine work already accom- 
plished in this direction by Dr. Halm at the Edinburgh 
Observatory eventually secured him the appointment. 

On Dr. Halm's arrival at the Cape he wrote to Sir David 
his impressions of the scene of his future life's work. 



August 12, 1907. 

DEAR SIR DAVID, Now that the first bewildering 
impressions have been somewhat cleared and I begin to 
feel at home in the new sphere of work and among my 
new friends and colleagues, I must not longer hesitate 
to send you this first message to tell you of our happy 
settlement in this most beautiful place as well as of the 
first events of my initiation as Chief Assistant of your 
great Observatory. 

Needless to say that I received most friendly welcome 
from Mr. Hough and all the colleagues, who did all in 
their power to help us in our first domestic difficulties 
and to assist me in obtaining a speedy knowledge of the 
equipment and the general work of the Observatory. 
They are an excellent set of men, faithful to their duties, 
frank in their opinions and loyal to the good old tradi- 
tions of the Cape Observatory. My estimation of their 
character is securely based on the all-round expression 
of their admiration for their late Chief, for his work and 
his personal kindness, his fatherly interest in them and 
theirs. Great and imperishable is the scientific monu- 
ment you have left behind, but it is overpassed by the 
monument of love in the hearts of those who will for ever 
remember your and Lady Gill's kindness and sympathies 
with their joys and sorrows. 


Believe me, Yours very sincerely, J. HALM. 



The personal side of David Gill Art Literature Music 
Religion, etc. 

OF the two forces, one of the head, the other of the 
heart, which governed all the acts of David Gill, perhaps 
too much prominence has been given to the former. 
This was inevitable in the circumstances. The Violet 
Markham letters, however, and the Staff anecdotes, give 
a great insight into the other part of his outlook upon the 
world. It will be not amiss to insert here some notes and 
anecdotes received upon the subjects of Literature, Art, 
Music, Religion, Humour, Conversation, Sport, and other 
social matters. 

Reference has already been made to Gill's love of 
pictures, and the many artists whose acquaintance he 
had made in Scotland and in London. He had many 
pictures in his house, some of which he rated highly. 

His oldest artist friend was Sir George Reid, who used 
to walk out from Aberdeen in the 'seventies to visit the 
Gills at Dun Echt, and who was a member of the literary 
coterie at Old Deer Manse, to which Gill contributed 
his share. Some of the acquaintances of this President 
of the Royal Scottish Academy generally recall him as a 
gloomy, morose man. These will be surprised to learn 
that he was in the habit of unbosoming himself to his old 
friend, David Gill, in a spirit of fun and drollery com- 
bined with culture, and his letters were often accompanied 
by comic sketches. 



Mr. A. P. Trotter, who spent some years at Cape Town, 
sends the following amusing tale, which is true. 

Charles Keane once sent Sir David a clever pen-and- 
ink sketch on a sheet of note-paper. It was probably 
mounted or framed, for it came under the notice of the 
Customs authorities, and when he extolled its merits they 
mulcted him in a good round sum. 

Many years after Sir George Reid sent him a beautiful 
picture of a mass of roses as a present. [Many a reader 
will remember this picture in Lady Gill's drawing-room.] 
Sir- David was asked, as was the practice at Cape Town, 
to pay a visit to the office to declare its value. He said, 
" How should I know anything about the value of pic- 
tures? I suppose it is hand painted. What do you 
think? You must have much more experience than I. 
Of course, I will pay whatever is right." ' Well, it 
seems to have a very good frame that is worth a pound." 
* Yes, now you mention it, it is quite a nice frame, and 
if you say a pound, that is all right. And I suppose 
something must be added for the picture? " So he was 
charged on a value, declared by the officer, of 3O/-. 

The tale has been told with little change by others. 
It gives additional interest to two letters out of a bundle 
written by Sir George Reid to Gill. 



November 13, 1891. 

DEAR ASTRONOMER, When I recognized your hand- 
writing on the envelope and the pinky-purply-Cape-of- 
Good-Hope-two-pence-halfpenny-stamp, I felt glad but 
when I turned the envelope to tear it open and my eyes 
lighted on the words, " What about my roses? " I felt a 
slight shock of pain, or of shame, or of both, it may be, 
as I knew I had no answer or at least no satisfactory 
answer, to return to your question, " What about my 
roses? ' Well what am I to say about them? They 
have bloomed and faded and fallen petal by petal to the 
earth, and I have been unable to make any record of 
their brightness or beauty but instead, went on looking 
day after day on the bald shining head of old Dr. G , 


and never once thought of the " gather your rosebuds 
while you may, old Time is still a-flying " exhalation, 
and now in the gloom and 'fog of November I look back 
sorrowfully on lost chances and wasted opportunities. 
Vorbei ! Vorbei ! sagte der arme Mahler, hatte ich doch 
Blumen gemahlt, als ich es noch Konnte,. Vorbei ! vorbei ! 
which, slightly altered from Hans Andersen, may be 
given as a fair rendering of what my repentant and 
regretful feelings are. But be of Good Hope ! (as you 

Yes, David, yes. The Gloire's flower 
Again shall deck the summer (seat) bower, 
Again my garden shall supply 
Things pleasant both to mouth and eye; 
Roses and Poppies shall abound, 
With Pinks and Pansies all around, 
And when the Painter paints at "they" 
Too short shall seem the summer day. 

With which free rendering of Sir Walter I shall cease and 
determine from this Rose business for just now. 

About this Presidency. I really don't know whether 
or not I have acted altogether wisely in accepting it. 
I wish you were an astrologer or a Taustettor or a 
Copernicus or a Galileo or a Tycho Brahe or some- 
thing of that kind, to consult the stars for me and tell 
me whether I was under the influence of some good or 
evil one when I said " yes " to the question. But the 
days of seers and soothsayers and Prophets and users of 
divination are past, and most of us can see before us 
just as far as the points of our noses and little further, 
and I must e'en be content to remain in doubt and 
uncertainty. Time doubtless will solve the mystery 
but then, if it should prove to have been a mistake ! 

However, the thing is done " for better or for worse " 
as the saying is and I must make the best of it. It 
will add to my cares and to my worries too 

"For how much there is lacking what tongue can tell? 
And of things that are crooked the number is fell," 

and this is an untoward generation and if you have 
to persuade long-eared quadrupeds who " won't go " 
" wolloping " is of little use persuasion in the shape of 
carrots or by preference thistles is the only thing 

ART 283 

and it may " exhaust time and encroach upon eternity " 
before appreciable advance is made. Still, I am not 
altogether without hope. . . . 

How is Mrs. Gill ? Please give her my kindest remem- 
brances and regards and my wife's also. I hope you 
are prospering in I was going to write " the work of 
your hands " but I suppose I should say the " work of 
your eyes " and of that funny calculating machine 
the one you used to turn by a handle. If I had much to 
do with arithmetic I think I should get one. I never 
could learn the multiplication table as Pet Marjorie 
used to say of nine times nine it was " dampnable I 
am afraid I have written you a sad teaser but I shall 
send it nevertheless. Yours ever truly, GEO. REID. 

The promise of the harassed President R. S. A. having 
been duly kept, Sir George's next letter, dated April 26, 
1894, begins 

DEAR ASTRONOMER, I am glad the roses reached you 
safely and that you like them, and further that the 
Custom House officials have been so moderate in their 
valuation of them ! 

The home of the Gills always contained good pictures 
upon the walls, some by his own friends, others collected 
by himself. I remember, in 1902, taking the late Earl 
of Carlisle out to the Observatory, and the great interest 
with which he gave to Sir David the benefit of his 
critical knowledge of the old Spanish masters. Gill's 
old Spanish pictures were sold at Christie's after his 

With regard to literature, the reader must have noticed, 
in numerous references by correspondents in these pages, 
the keen delight with which he devoured the work of our 
best authors. Allusion has also been made to a few 
occasions when he read aloud to his friends, and to the 
daily readings by his wife, which were his great recre- 
ation during forty years of their married life, during 
some hour of rest, while he contentedly smoked his pipe 
and listened. 


The outstanding feature of David Gill's personality 
was happiness. In, work or play, in action or inaction, 
it beamed from him. He was happy when engaged upon 
the work of his favourite science. He was happy in 
joining in the games or sports of others.. He was happy 
in seeing others happy, and was happy in sacrificing 
himself for those he loved. But few things outside of 
his pet subject brought him such supreme, contented 
happiness as really good music. This was noted in 
letters even during his Clerkenwell days. It never 
ceased to please. 

Mr. R. T. A. Innes, writing about Gill's characteristics, 
says : "He liked music, but a wrong note gave him 
anguish so that his enjoyment of music was always 
very mixed." 

The observatory, during the whole period of the Gills' 
residence there, was the meeting ground of all intellectual 
and artistic residents, of all distinguished visitors to Cape 
Town, and of the naval officers at Simons Bay. 

All the professional musicians who arrived at the Cape 
were well received at the Observatory, and there were 
many musical evenings. Among the residents there 
were some, like Mrs. Colahan, an army-doctor's wife, who 
were skilled performers, and who often came to brighten 
the observatory life with music, on the piano whose 
quality was unimpeachable. 

Once, when Mrs. Colahan was playing, two young girls 
seated together in the room were talking. Sir David 
admonished them in a whisper. Shortly after, they 
resumed their conversation, whereupon he approached 
them, took them each by an arm and solemnly removed 
them from the room. 

From that time onwards the pianist nicknamed him 
her " musical policeman." 

Mr. Knobel recalls that when he was at the Cape he 
and Mrs. Colahan on two or three occasions played the 
Kreutzer Sonata. He says, " Gill was so moved, he 


almost shouted his delight, and afterwards he often 
referred to the exquisite slow movement in Beethoven's 

When Madame Norman Neruda and her husband, Sir 
Charles Halle, were guests one evening, they were given 
a peep at the stars through the big telescope. Sir David's 
explanations evoked her enthusiasm, and she exclaimed, 
" I must stop here always." Whereupon her husband 
asked, " And what is to become of me ? " " Oh, you can 
stop too if you like." 

Remenyi the violinist, Albani, and many other noted 
artistes found their way to the observatory. 

Santley was a welcome friend there at all times during 
his trip to South Africa. Once he was singing " Duncan 
Grey " at a concert in Cape Town, and Sir David had 
his seat on the platform. Each verse excited him more 
than the last, and, oblivious of all but the song, at the 
close of each verse he pushed back his chair a little to 
catch the sound better, until, to the horror of his wife, 
who sat in the body of the hall, he was within a few 
inches of the stair leading down from the platform. Had 
there been one more verse he must have turned a somer- 
sault down the steps, and all his friends were relieved 
when the song ended without a catastrophe. 

In the presence of really good music he' was almost 
beside himself with joy. During his frequent visits to 
Paris he saw a good deal of the Lyttons. One day they 
took him to a concert with their party. An exquisite 
solo was being sung, and Gill was enchanted. He 
seized hold of an aged gentleman of the party, who was 
next to him, by the arm, and said, " Man ! is it not 
grand? " Some time later Lady Lytton, when spoken to 
about it, remarked, " Yes, the Due [indicating a high 
personage] was greatly amused at Sir David's enthusi- 
asm." Our astronomer had never given a thought to 
his neighbour, whether he was great or small. He felt 
he must have sympathy in his admiration of the solo. 


During the whole of his residence in England, after his 
retirement, Gill never missgd an opportunity of attending 
the Albert Hall concerts. ' 

Mrs. Andrew (late of Cape Town and Muizemberg, now 
in Scotland) writes 

Not very long before his last illness, we were 
coming out of the Albert Hall, after a performance of 
the Elijah and, in the vestibule, met a " rapt " Sir 
David, who declaimed in his broad Doric, " Ah, Mrs. 
Andrew, Mendelssohn was all wrong in his wind-up. He 
should have finished by sending Elijah up to Heaven in 


It seems tame when written, but if you could have 
seen that noble form, with its grand head, and rugged 
face, Gill the poet, utterly unconscious of the fashionable 
crowd moving past him, as with uplifted hands he pic- 
tured his idea of the Great Prophet's passing, you too 
would have been carried away to another world, and when 
you came down to criticism would have agreed that the 
music was not majestic enough to depict the whirlwind 
and chariot and steeds of fire. 

Alas, we little thought, that night, that our friend was 
so soon to join the great choir above, but I shall never 
forget his looks; surely the "Spirit of God was upon 
him the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit 
of counsel and true godliness, the Spirit of knowledge 
and ghostly strength." 

I suppose that Sir David's aesthetic fervour penetrated 
the spirits of his closest intimates. His notion about the 
passing of the prophet in a flare of trumpets came to 
some of us when he passed away, who regretted that 
to conclude the Memorial Service at St. Mary Abbot, 
Kensington, with the " Hallelujah Chorus," which always 
moved him so much, would hardly be consonant with the 
established practice of the Church. Mrs. Andrew writes 
in continuation 

I have just remembered another occasion when it was 
my privilege to meet him again " in tune with the 
infinite." Many years ago, when Ian McLaren's " Days 


of Auld Lang Syne " was coming out in the British 
Weekly, we were at our cottage at Muizemberg in S. 
Africa. Sir David and Mr. Jacoby, the American astro- 
nomer, had come down for a breath of the sea, and 
we were all sitting on the verandah, when the train 
passed with Mrs. Waterston. She threw us a paper, and 
soon came along the road herself, with a request to Dr. 
Gill to read about Drumsheugh's fireside to us. It was 
the chapter where he and that other noble man, Dr. 
McClure, talk over their boyhood's days, how they 
guddled for trout, and about the people of the glen, and 
the experiences of life which made men and women of 
them. Then they began to count how many of them 
had already " passed to the other side," Burnbrae's 
" long journey," and the death of the little motherless 
girl. It was grand to hear our old friend roll it out in 
his sympathetic sonorous voice. We all listened in 
rapt attention, none of us Celts dry-eyed. When he 
got to the doctor taking the " bit lassiekie " on his knee 
and saying, " Ye're no feart dautie, ye'll sin be name " ; 
" Haud me ticht, Ducksie, and Mither '11 tak' me oot o' 
yer arms," he pitched the paper down, saying, with a 
sob, " I can nae mair." 

Some of the accounts given of Gill's passionate appre- 
ciation of good music, though he was not a musician, 
recall Sir Charles Stanford's words about Tennyson 

Without being a musician, he had a great appreciation 
of the fitness of music to its subjects, and was an unfail- 
ing judge of musical declamation. As he expressed it 
himself, he disliked music which went up when it ought 
to go down, and went down when it ought to go up. 1 

The subject of sacred music leads by a natural transi- 
tion to that of Religion. Just as we saw his love for 
music cropping out in the Clerkenwell days as related 
by Mr. Haswell (p. 21), so also his simple, unquestioning 
faith was illustrated to the playfellow of his boyhood 
(p. 9), and to his mother on her deathbed (p. 6). In 
all these spiritual matters, and in all these ideals, cravings, 

1 Studies and Memories, by C. V. Stamford. Constable, 1908. 


motives of action, and joyousness, the soul of David 
Gill seems to have remained unchanged from the age of 
ten to seventy. 

It must be told, however, that all through his life 
there was an inherent reserve about higher things, which 
was never broken even to his intimates by any unsought- 
for confidences about his private thoughts and belief. 
And it is a most remarkable fact that, such being the 
case, and in spite of it, he was always perfectly ready 
and willing to answer a direct question upon these 
subjects, as upon any other about which his opinion was 
sincerely asked. He would even answer the questions 
by a reporter without any objection to their publication. 
When seriously consulted by a friend in trouble, he 
would open his heart to him. 

A curious consequence of this reserve was that few of 
his subordinates had any knowledge of his profound 
piety. One of these (on the strength, as he said, of his 
peculiarly intimate relations with his chief) furnished the 
biographer with what he considered to be an estimate of 
Sir David Gill seen from the inside. Therein, to the 
astonishment of the reader, was the statement : " My 
own impression is that he was an Agnostic "[!] Such 
absolute, incredible ignorance was due simply to the fact 
that Gill never did thrust forward his opinions if they 
were not asked for. 

One of the very rare occasions of departure from this 
habit of constraint and reserve is mentioned in a letter 
to Lady Gill written from the Mount Nelson Hotel, Cape 
Town, by Miss Leonard, on February 6, 1914. 

The first time I met him [Sir David] was at the Mount 
Nelson. A man began to make cynical remarks about 
marriage and love a middle-aged man with a wife and 
family. There were several quite young people present, 
and Sir David stood it for a while, with his brows knitted. 
Then he said, " Man, have you got a wife? " ' Yes/' 
said the man. " Then you ought to be ashamed of 


yourself talking like that." There was a surprised 
silence, and then the subject was changed. But I never 
forgot. It is so rarely that older people have courage 
enough to say things like that, and it helps young people 
so much when they have. 

Gill gave great respect to the man who followed 
science in any form, but he had little tolerance for 
the bad logic of those who take up the less exact 
sciences and who think that physiology supplies the 
data for deciding religious questions. His faith was as 
simple and thorough as that of Sir Isaac Newton or of the 
great leaders of exact science and mathematically accurate 
reasoning who were his friends. In common with prac- 
tically all men who are leaders in any of the exact 
sciences, he accepted Professor Tait's repudiation of 
these pseudo-scientists. 1 He knew that Sir George 
Stokes' absolute belief in divine revelation 2 was invin- 
cible, that Lord Kelvin's definite pronouncements against 
the conclusions of materialists were logically unassail- 
able, 3 and that Clerk Maxwell's lifelong piety and his 
deathbed utterance 4 were the beliefs of perhaps the 
most accurate and penetrating seer of the century. 

The Bishop of St. John's, Umtata, Africa, in writing to 
the Dowager Lady Loch on February 2, 1914, about Sir 
David Gill's death, says 

And there were some things which one is especially glad 
to remember at this time his perfectly simple faith in the 
love of God and our Lord's redemption. His faith was 
steady with the steadiness of real simplicity. I remember 
once meeting at lunch at the Observatory a German 
savant who was staying there. The talk after lunch 
turned on scientific subjects general science, I think 

1 Knott's Life of Professor Tail, p. 295. 

2 Memoir of Sir George Stokes, by Sir Joseph Larmor. Cam- 
bridge, 1907, Sec. I. 

3 Life of Lord Kelvin, by S. P. Thompson, London. 1910. 
vol. ii. pp. 1091-4. 

4 The Life of James Clerk Maxwell, by Lewis Campbell and 
William Garnett. London, 1882, passim, and p. 426. 



and Sir David said something which implied rather 
remotely his own Christianity. " Do you believe in 
that? " asked the 'guest, 'almost startled. " I do," was 
the answer, with a singularly impressive simplicity, 
which no doubt gave more occasion for thought and 
reflection than a long argument. K 

At a memorial service for Sir David Gill held at St. 
Michael's Church, Observatory, Cape Town, the Rev. 
G. F. Gresley said that he might be allowed to say 
something about matters which were very little known. 

I may say that we owe the existence of this church 
to his courage, his advice, his help, and his liberality. 
He was always a regular and devout attendant at 
Sunday morning service, and knelt at that altar month 
by month to receive the Sacrament. 

All his friends were impressed by the solemnity 
with which he invariably said Grace before meals. 
The one witness who can testify on the matter says 
that during the whole of his life every day, morning and 
evening, he said his prayers. And, besides this private 
devotion, he had family prayers whenever he was not 
prevented by astronomical duties. A busy astronomer 
is, of course, unable, while on duty, to meet the family 
and domestics in this way. Their meetings, in fact, 
were very different ; for it often happened that the Dutch 
cook, meeting her master at sunrise, would say, " Good 
morning, sir," to which he, on his way to bed, would 
respond, " Good night, cook." 

A dear friend, writing to him in great trouble, received 
the following reply 

I have the very deepest sympathy with what you tell 
me of your inner life and am thankful that you have 
found the only solace and guide in all such troubles. 
We, however, never can have by instinct or by any 
other way a knowledge of God's purposes towards us 
we can only try to do what we believe He would wish 
us to do. 


In our affections and the closest and dearest relations 
of life, instinct, if not rendered unreliable by passion or 
self-interest, is generally a good guide. . . . The simplest 
rule in all life is to ask one's self what Christ w d have done 
in the circumstances, and then try to do what you 
honestly believe He would have done. None of us can 
always do that but the better we try the better we 
shall bear and the better we shall be. 

Often the things that seem to be the greatest trials in 
life turn out in the end to be the greatest blessings. You 
cannot grow a hardy flower in a hothouse it is the trials 
of life that make the moral training, just as it is the 
poor soil, the winter blast, the unwilling harvest, that 
make the hardy Scot about whom we said not a little on 
Saturday night at St. Andrew's dinner. 

It has been said that Sir David Gill had no objection 
to answer any questions asked even by an interviewer. 
The editor of Great Thoughts, however, makes the 

From the interviewer's point of view, Sir David pos- 
sesses only one fault he has an invincible objection to 
talking about himself and his achievements. 

Yet this interviewer, by direct question, was able to 
get this very definite statement from him 

There is no subject which appeals, or ought to appeal, 
more strongly to the imagination than that of astronomy, 
nothing which lifts men, or ought to lift them, to a 
higher plane of thought, or gives them a better grasp oi 
the infinite power of the Creator ; nothing that exemplifies 
more completely the unity of design that exists in Nature ; 
nothing that teaches more the Christian lesson of humility, 
and yet, at the same time, affords the highest proof of 
the intellectual possibilities open to man. 

It may be all the more worth while drawing attention 
to this side of the personality of this great astronomer at 
the present time, when the whole civilized world is now 
fighting for the laws of God against the rules of right 


and wrong devised by an arrogant, brutal and impious 
race. ^ 

It will surprise many to find that a man so reticent as 
David Gill was quite willing to answer directly any 
question about his faith. k 

To A. H. TABRUN, Esq. 


October 16, 1908. 

DEAR SIR, In reply to your letter of the i5th Inst. 
You need pay no attention to the anti-religious lecturer 
you wrote of or his assertion that " scientific research 
has shown the Bible and Religion to be untrue." 

The assertion is unfounded rubbish. Look at the 
frequent statements to the contrary of our most eminent 
men, such as the late Lord Kelvin and Sir George Gabriel 
Stokes. 1 

People too often try to make cheap capital out of 
poetic similes in the Bible just as if the Bible was a 
scientific treatise which it is not. Yours faithfully, 


To A. H. TABRUN, Esq. 

DEAR SIR, I have no objection to your publishing the 
letter as enclosed. [The one reproduced above.] Yours 
faithfully, DAVID GILL. 

Again, in 1909, he was asked by Mr. W. H. Howard 
Nash to answer the following questions, and he made no 

1. Is it your belief that the Universe had an Intelligent 
First Cause? Ans. : "Yes." 

2. Do you attribute Personality to that First Cause ? 

1 The reader may be interested to compare Sir George Stokes' 
reply to the same, or a similar, letter from Mr. Tabrun. It is in 
the same sense as Sir David Gill's but fuller; and is followed 
by explanatory letters extending over nearly six years, occupying 
fifteen pages (vol. ii. pp. 76-90) of his Memoir and Scientific Cor- 
respondence, Cambridge, 1907, selected and arranged by Sir 
Joseph Larmor, Sec. R.S., etc. 


3. Do you believe that Man has the faculty of appre- 
hending God? 

[Opposite these two questions Gill wrote :] " Canst 
thou by searching find out God, canst thou find out the 
Almighty to perfection? " and added the remark : "I 
do not think that your questions 2 and 3 are capable of 
a more definite answer than that which I have given you 
in the words of Job. What is personality? What is 
apprehending ? 

4. Is it your belief that man's personality survives in a 
conscious state beyond the grave? Ans. : " Yes." 

5. Do you believe that God has revealed Himself to 
Man pre-eminently through Jesus Christ ? Ans. : " Yes." 

6. Do you believe Jesus Christ to be " The Son of 
God " ? Ans. : " Yes, in the sense that He said so." 

7. Is it your belief that Man possesses " free will " 
within limits? Ans. : " Yes." 

8. Is it your belief that the Bible contains a Divine 
Revelation? Ans. : " Yes." 

Lastly : May we, if necessary, use your name in con- 
nection with your replies? Ans. : " Yes." 

(Signed) DAVID GILL. 


Gilliana Humour Friendship 

THE musical taste and religious faith of David Gill were 
a part of his personality, of the Spirit which was the 
source of his intellectual and physical acts. And to them 
were added a genial love for all true people, for all noble 
effort, a deep sympathy with those in trouble, and a 
bright outlook upon the world and its enjoyment. 

Naturally, such a man quickly detected the humorous 
side of any occurrence, enjoyed a witty story, and himself 
possessed a store of them. When resident in London, 
after his retirement, he dined out a great deal, and was 
regarded as the best of company and a delightful raconteur. 
At public dinners, too, he was generally ready to relieve 
the tedium of prosy speeches by relating some amusing 

There may have been an occasional slowness to catch 
the point of a joke, and some of his best stories may 
have been worn rather threadbare. The oft-told story of 
a threepenny bit at a distance of a hundred miles is one 
in point, but it was not himself who wore it threadbare. 
It was the newspaper reporters who got hold of it, and 
used it to show his appreciation of a joke even against 

It might be truly said that, in all his greatest practica} 
work of observing, Gill spent his whole life in the hunt 
after one-hundredth of a second of arc, and that he was 
the first astronomer who caught it. It was to a great 
extent owing to this that we are now able to say that the 



records left by Sir David Gill are probably unsurpassed 
in value by those of any living astronomer who has 
worked upon similar lines. 

In the year 1872, while the writer was studying practical 
astronomy at Greenwich Observatory under Airy, he 
mentioned to Gill a quaint dictum of Airy's (which fairly 
represented the degree of accuracy then sought for by 
astronomers), that " a tenth of a second of arc is the 
smallest thing in the world." In 1876, at Dun Echt, 
Gill showed him his he lio meter observations at Mauritius, 
sheets upon sheets of concordant results, and then asked : 
" Will Airy deny now that there is such a thing as a 
hundredth of a second of arc ? " When visiting England 
in 1884, after showing his work upon stellar parallax at 
the Cape, he repeated the same question. At later dates, 
when the writer visited him at the Cape, bundles of MS. 
were produced to show the results obtained with his new 
heliometer, and again the same question was repeated 
in the same words. 

That any one should have made a jest of a life's quest 
might hurt some people, but no one enjoyed the following 
joke more than Sir David. 

The small angle referred to (o"-oi) is less than that 
covered by a threepenny bit at a distance of a hundred 
miles. Gill expressed it so in a lecture on the most 
refined measurements attained by astronomers, to the 
Institute of Marine Engineers, of which he was the 
president, two years before his death. Afterwards he 
thoroughly enjoyed narrating how the chairman, at a 
dinner in the evening, when proposing the lecturer's 
health, said there could be no doubt about his nationality, 
because nobody but a Scotsman would bother about a 
threepenny bit a hundred miles away. 

Part of the humour of this sally arose from the fact 
that Sir David's broad Aberdonian Doric, and rolling 
r's, proclaimed his nationality to any one who ever heard 
him speak. 


When lecturing on the Fixed Stars Sir David wanted an 
illustration of the distance tp the nearest star, a Centauri. 
This is what he said 

We are a commercial people; we like to make out 
estimates in pounds sterling. We shall suppose that 
some wealthy directors have failed in getting Parlia- 
mentary sanction to cut a sub- Atlantic tunnel to America, 
and so, for want of some other outlet for their energy 
and capital, they construct a railway to a Centauri. We 
shall neglect for the present the engineering difficulties 
a mere detail and suppose them overcome, and the 
railway opened for traffic. 

We shall go further and suppose that the directors 
have found the construction of such a railway to have 
been peculiarly easy, and that the proprietors of inter- 
stellar space had not been exorbitant in their terms for 
right of way. Therefore, with a view to encourage traffic, 
the directors have made the fares exceedingly moderate 
viz. first-class at one penny per 100 miles. 

Desiring to take advantage of these facilities, an 
American gentleman, by way of providing himself with 
small change for the journey, buys up the National Debt 
of Great Britain, and of a few other countries, and, present- 
ing himself at the booking-office, demands a first-class 
single to a Centauri. For this he tenders in payment the 
scrip of the National Debt of Great Britain which just 
covers the cost of the ticket ; but I should explain that 
at this time the National Debt, from little wars, coupled 
with some unremunerative Government investments in 
landed property, had run up from 700 millions to 1,100 
millions sterling. Having taken his seat, it occurs to him 
to ask 

" At what rate do you travel ? " 

" Sixty miles an hour, sir, including stoppages," is 
the answer. 

" And when shall we reach a Centauri ? " 

" In 48,663,060 years, sir." 

" Humph ! rather a long journey." 

When called upon as an astronomer to make an after- 
dinner speech to a mixed audience he often gave them 


an astronomical anecdote. On one occasion he gave the 

A meteorite fell in a field on a Scottish farm. The 
landlord claimed it under a lease which entitled him to all 
minerals and metals on the land. The tenant, however, 
claimed that it belonged to him because it was not on 
the land when the lease was drawn. Equal to the occa- 
sion, the landlord claimed it as " flying game." " But 
it has neither wings nor feathers/' rejoined the tenant ; 
" therefore, as ground game it is mine." At this point 
the discussion was cut short by the appearance of a 
Revenue Officer, who took possession of the meteorite 
as "an article introduced into the country without 
payment of duty." 

He was tremendously tickled by the story of Lord 
Tullibardine and the sucking pigs that was going round 
London a few years ago. The next time he was at Blair 
Castle he asked if it was true. The Marquess replied : 
" I never heard it before, and there's not a word of truth 
in it, but it's a d d good story." 

He was in the way of picking up good stories by the 
score, but was revolted by the questionable ones which 
by some were supposed to be witty. If he were writing 
a letter to an intimate friend it was quite a common 
thing for him to introduce the last good thing he had heard, 
that his correspondent might share the fun. Earl Grey and 
he used to have regular sets to in South Africa, capping 
each other's tales. When Lord Grey went to Canada as 
Governor General they still swopped yarns by letter. 

Writing home to a great friend at that time he inserts, 
d propos de bottes, a story extracted from the following 

GOVERNMENT HOUSE, OTTAWA, February 14, 1905. 

MY DEAR ASTRONOMER, A thousand thanks for so 
kindly writing to me from Johannesburg to tell me about 
my boy. He writes me excellent letters which lead me 
to believe he is both interested and happy. I hope he is 


liked by his Chief and appreciated by those with whom 
he comes in contact. You will like him when you get to 
know him. f' 

Here is a story which will amuse you. A Custom House 
officer put the usual question to an American lady the 
other day on arrival at New York, as to -whether she had 
any dutiable goods. " No, nothing but wearing apparel," 
she persisted, and showed some indignation when the 
Custom House officer, distrusting her word, proceeded to 
open her box and rummage right to the very bottom. 
With triumph he pulled out from below her dresses two 
big magnums of whisky, and holding them by the neck 
asked the lady what she meant by saying that she had 
nothing in her box but wearing apparel. " I stated what 
was the truth/' said the lady, " for you hold in your hand 
my husband's night-caps ! " The official immediately 
withdrew his claims, and the lady withdrew in triumph. 

Can you send me back a better one which I can tell 
Sir Wilfred Laurier, whose story this is ? 

I am much distressed that you are not able to give me 
a better account of your delightful wife. Please give her 
every assurance of my continued devotion. 

I am sorry you saw so little of Halifax. He has been 
terribly upset by the death of his favourite sister. 

When you have time please dash me off a line, for I 
enjoy keeping myself in touch, as far as possible, with 
South Africa. I remain, yours ever, GREY. 


MY DEAR ASTRONOMER, When are you coming to pay 
me a visit in Canada ? It is a long time since I saw your 
handwriting, or had a laugh over one of your stories. On 
this side of the Atlantic old chestnuts are much appreciated, 
so when you come bring as many as you can collect. 

Please give my devoted regards to Lady Gill, and if 
she comes with you so much the better. 

I remain, yours ever, GREY. 


MY DEAR GRINDSTONE, Forgive me. I admit I 
ought to have my nose pressed well upon it as a reward 


for my acknowledge of astronomical observations from 
Cape Town, and now I only write, such is the way of 
mankind, to ask a favour from you and dear Mrs. Gill, 
if I may venture to call her so ! and that is if Lady Helen 
Vincent (sister of the beautiful Duchess of Leinster who 
is just dead) is still in Cape Town she sailed in the Scot 
last Saturday will you make a point of finding her out 
and being nice to her ? When I tell you she is a beautiful 
woman and has a mind and character as beautiful as her 
face and has many tastes in common with Mrs. Gill, I 
think you'll just shut up your old telescope and bring 
upon her the battery of a human eyesight unaided by 
any lenses. But I expect you have already made friends, 
for I told Sir Edgar Vincent all sorts of nice things about 
you and Mrs. Gill and that he was to make a point of 
making y r acquaintance before he leaves Cape Town. 

Met Herschell and his wife the other day. We all 
cracked you and Mrs. Gill sky high, out of reach even of 
your telescopic photographer. 

No time for more this mail, but must beg you to thank 
Mrs. Gill from me for her dear letter. It was very kind 
and nice of her to write. I have never thanked you, 
have I, for your Grindstone. I enjoyed it, particularly 
its national modesty, and passed it on to another scoffing 
but appreciative Southerner. It is, I believe, getting 
quite well-thumbed. Believe me, with friendly greetings 
to dear Mrs. Gill, Yrs most truly, GREY. 


GOVERNMENT HOUSE, OTTAWA, February 6, 1905. 

MY DEAR ASTRONOMER, If you can read any good 
stories out of the heavens thro' your telescope, please pass 
them on to me I send you 2 silly stories just for you to 

Getting on all right here. Everybody anxious to help 
with both hands. 

Hanbury Williams, your Nominee, ist rate, wife 
ditto. No trouble too great and lots of tact. Come and 
pay me a visit and bring the Divinity with you and in 
her red gown. 

Just in from 2 hours on snow-shoes, and every inch of 
my body red-hot, altho' the Thermo, says it's zero. 

My DEVOTED regards to Lady Gill. Yours ever, 



Any joke with a university flavour was as acceptable 
to him as an astronomical one. Here is one that he used 
to tell. 

An English tourist just arrived in Edinburgh was asked 
by a ragged urchin for a bawbee. " Do you do anything 
for a living ? " he asked. " I beg," was the reply. " What 
does your father do ? " " He begs." " And your 
mother?" "She begs." "Have you any brothers or 
sisters ? " " I've one brother, and he's in the university." 

The Englishman had often heard of the straits under- 
gone by many a poor Scottish family, that they might be 
enabled to send one of their number to college, and was 
delighted to have come across so striking a case of the 
father and mother and one of their sons, in poverty, and 
begging in the streets that the other might be educated 
and, perhaps, enter the " meenistry." 

So he put a further question about the brother, to which 
the reply came, " He was born wi' twa heids, an' they 
keep him in a bottle." 

Although modest and humble in his dealings with all 
men, Gill was never shy nor flustered in the presence of 
the most distinguished or exalted personages. If put in 
an awkward position by any circumstance he could save 
the situation with a bon mot. One evening after his 
retirement he was a guest at a reception in a certain lady's 
London house. He and a most distinguished ecclesiastic 
were in close juxtaposition when their hostess advanced 
and addressed them in these words : " I want to make the 
greatest astronomer in the world and the greatest preacher 
in the world acquainted," and after introducing them, 
moved off. There was dead silence between the two men 
for some seconds. Then Gill looked his companion in 
the eyes, and said with his humorous twinkle : " It is 
not often that either of us meets such a distinguished 
man." This broke the ice. 

There was certainly a wonderful charm about the man 
and his conversation, as all who knew him, however 
slightly, testify. Physically, the ready twinkle of his 


eye, the pleasant smile, occasionally only on one side of 
the mouth, and the striking and self-reliant, yet enquiring 
voice, all played their part. 

Gill's detestation of anything but the best in astro- 
nomical work of precision sometimes raised a laugh from 
the forcible language in which he expressed it. On one 
occasion he writes to the secretary of a society 

I am returning the paper to Wesley. The paper 
justifies Mr. Hough's definition of its author, namely, 
" the Apostle of the Slap-dash." The outstanding errors 
were from 4" to + 7" ! ! ! ! 

On another occasion, at a Council meeting, a certain 
astronomer whose paper was under consideration wrote 
to withdraw it " on account of the pressure which had been 
put upon him by Sir David Gill." Whereupon Gill 
burst out : " I never put any pressure upon the man at all. 
I only wrote blaw ..." and the rest of the sentence 
was lost in general laughter. 

Gill could not understand how any man could be an 
astronomer for the sake of his salary and not for love 
of his science. Occasionally he had a revelation. An 
incident connected with one of these men sent him into 
fits of laughter whenever he told this story, which Mr. 
Trimen wrote down when it was told to him 

One day in Germany Gill was saying good-bye to an 
astronomer with whom he had been settling plans of 
observing, when the latter begged a few moments of 
confidential talk. " My dear friend/' said he, " tell me, 
you think, do you not ? that I am good astronom ? " 
" That requires no argument," replied Gill, " it is a patent 
fact." " Ach, so ! I am glad to hear your so high 
estimate. But, my friend, that is only my pusiness ; 
I do it to my utmost, always ; but meine Seele what you 
call the heart nicht so ? is mit Peetles ! " " With 
what ? " rejoined Gill in astonishment. The seer then 
rose, and ushered his guest into a smaller room, the walls 
of which were almost wholly occupied with shelves of 
neatly arranged boxes resembling books. " This," he 


said, " is my collection of Peetles Insecta Coleoptera 

which, indeed, I most of all love ! " 


Gill, suddenly enlightened, could only observe, " Oh, 
Beetles ! Yes, I see ; you have surprised me ! " 
" Scarcely one do I tell of this, my cherished pursuit," 
declared the Astronom; " but I venture' to ask you, my 
dear friend, for a very great favour. You now return to 
the Cape is it not so ? My collection is most wanting 
in the Peetles of that land, and I pray you to send me 
some that live there." 

Mr. Trimen goes on to tell us 

To suffer fools gladly (more or less) is the lot of the 
head of almost every scientific institution in regard to 
the ordinary run of visitors; and Gill's courtesy and 
patience in this respect, under whatever provocation, 
were unfailing. But while thus considerate of the frankly 
unlearned, he could ill tolerate pretence or affectation of 
knowledge, and he had an admirable faculty of absolutely 
ignoring any attempted display of the kind. 

He had a still keener detestation of anything mean, 
underhand, or disloyal, and on occasion did not hesitate 
promptly to express his strong condemnation. This was 
conspicuously shown in the troubled times preceding the 
Boer War, when he publicly as well as privately denounced 
the treachery of those including some of his own personal 
acquaintances who were surreptitiously backing the 
machinations against England of the notorious Afrikander 

When asked at the Cape why he hated showing in- 
quisitive ladies or tourists round the Observatory, and 
if it bored him, he said, "It's not bored. I don't mind 
that, but how would you feel if you saw them desecrating 
a church and profaning the altar? " 

He was asked how it came that, while he liked to hear 
people talk of his skill in shooting, he resented the custom- 
ary praise of his astronomical work. He replied, As 
to shooting, I know I am, or was, a good shot. When we 
shot in competitions I was glad to win, and it pleases my 
pride to hear people remind me of it. But in astronomy 


if people praise my work they don't know what they are 
talking about. The whole subject is so vast and over- 
whelming that I feel " ashamed and humbled " when I 
think how little I, or any one like me, can do. 

Astronomy was to him a sacred subject. He could 
not bear to hear it spoken of as anything less by the 
ignorant would-be learned. But any one who really 
sought for information, however ignorant, was met 

Mr. Lecson writes from the Athenaeum 

One day asking him about the double Vega [Sirius ?] 
I said : " Mind you, of course, I am only an amateur " ; 
he replied slapping his knee " Why, bless my soul, 
that's exactly what I am." 

Another day, asking him whether he considered our 
stellar system was a system in itself, and so, limited, he 
replied " My idea is that if you could get up to the 
Nebula in Andromeda you would see our system and the 
Milky Way as a small cluster of faint stars." 

The breezy atmosphere that Gill carried about with 
him, and spread through any sympathetic coterie in whose 
presence he might be, is remembered by the wide circle 
of friends, astronomical and otherwise, in whose society 
he spent so much of his time after his retirement while 
he and his wife occupied their charming bright flat in 

Mr. Trimen tells what a distinguished official at the 
Admiralty once said to him. 

It is always a great treat to his friends here when Gill 
looks us up ; it is like a refreshing breeze that clears away 
dull cobwebs of the London gloom, and the frigid coils of 
red-tape routine seem to relax and shrivel up before his 
genial sincerity and good fellowship. 

Sir Joseph Larmor, writing from Cambridge, says 

I well remember a meeting of the Astronomical Club 
here at which I was invited to meet him, when the vigour 


and insistence of his onslaught on the problems of dis- 
crepancies between aberration and solar parallax acted 
as a refreshing storm does^on a stagnant atmosphere. 

In the same way Gill's dominant personality at scientific 
conferences in Paris has been recorded by some who 
were present. 

Mr. Knobel relates the following anecdote 

During the Paris Congress of 1887 Gill and some other 
astronomers called upon Dr. Lohse of the Potsdam 
Observatory, who spoke English very well. Gill at once 
began a long explanation to Lohse of the aims and objects 
of the Congress, in which he touched upon several matters, 
all in his vigorous Aberdonian. At the conclusion he 
said, " I hope you have quite understood me ? " Lohse 
replied, " Not a word." (Roars of laughter.) 

The following is told by Mr. A. Hinks about Gill. 

It was an unending pleasure to watch him at the Paris 
Conferences ; his extraordinary flow of very Aberdonian 
French and the courage with which he would tell 
humorous stories and wonder what had become of the 
point in the translation, and the ease with w r hich he 
converted any evening function into a dance, and the 
extraordinary respect in which he was held by the 
scholastic kind of astronomer who had no idea beyond 
the text-books, were all quite delightful to see. 

Of course the first thing that struck one was his single- 
hearted enthusiasm. I have never known any one else 
so absolutely keen, and so fully convinced that whatever 
he took up was worth doing with all his might. He 
showed this in everything. And, of course, it naturally 
followed that he had some difficulty in understanding 
how anybody else could think differently or that anybody 
else was thinking about anything else except the subject 
which occupied his mind. This was sometimes amusingly 
illustrated in such cases as an astrographic conference. 
I have seen him come into the middle of a discussion, 
and without waiting to gather in the slightest degree 
what was under way, he would burst in with a vehement 
harangue on what he imagined ought to have been under 


way. " It is Jupiter tonans," remarked Backlund one 
day when he had been presiding. 

So at the Cape meeting of the B.A., when Kapteyn 
was reading his great paper on star-streams, Gill broke 
in every half minute with a question or an argument, 
so that at the end of Kapteyn 's paper Forsyth very 
adroitly called upon Gill to " continue the discussion." 

But his intense interest in hearing the reading of a really 
great scientific paper, announcing results achieved by 
patience, the work of a genius, generally overwhelmed 
him with the silence of that deep humility which was 
always part of his nature. 

Mr. Flinders Petrie recalls a remarkable scene to 
memory, perhaps the most delightfully characteristic of 
all the Gilliana which are current among his intimates. 

At a Royal Society meeting Dr. G. E. Hale (U.S.A.) 
was describing his marvellous solar photographs in a 
single spectral ray. At the end of the address the 
President asked Sir David if he would say something. 
He rose slowly to his full height, said " Wor-r-shipful 
admir-r-ation " and sat down again. 

The same friend and admirer of Sir David's, who had 
helped in reducing his Egyptian Pyramid triangulation 
in 1879 tells of another incident 

When Gill was President of the British Association 
[1907] I happened to join a carriage with him and others. 
He did not notice some one saluting him in the street, 
and one of his friends said to him that he must remember 
he was President and be on his dignity. He replied, 
" That is just what my brother said to me ' Da vie/ said 
he, ' you've no more dignity than a duck.' ' 

When Gill had completed the Cape Observatory, 
equipped with instruments in many ways surpassing 
those in any other observatory, with something of 
Airy's discipline at Greenwich, and something of Otto 
Struve's patriarchal astronomical colony at Pulkowa, 
he had piled up such a mass of definite results of 


patient labour as would have filled with pride any one 
with less exacting standards than his own. His retire- 
ment to England did not interrupt his astronomical 
activities. And it gave him the unalloyed happiness, 
from which his twenty-seven years of exile had debarred 
him, of being in the centre of intellectual, artistic, and 
social activities. He derived uninterrupted pleasure 
from the easy intercourse with old friends, and the oppor- 
tunities of making new ones. And this pleasure was 
reciprocated. Astronomers, too, from all parts of the 
world were often for the first time able to feel that friendly 
handshake of his and learn his appreciation of their own 

Among these, Dr. G. E. Hale, the able Director of the 
Mount Wilson Solar Observatory in California, who 
became one of his continuous correspondents, has been 
kind enough to write his impressions of the beginning of 
their friendship. 

I shall never forget my first encounter with Sir David 
Gill. The library of the Royal Astronomical Society was 
crowded prior to meeting, and tea was in progress. Some 
one said that Sir David wished to meet me and led me 
towards him. I must confess that while I went with 
pleasant anticipation, there lay beneath it a slight measure 
of doubt. Gill in his post of vantage at the Cape, had 
always impressed me as a strong and vigorous leader, 
whose preoccupation with research and organization 
in the field of the older astronomy would leave little room 
for sympathy with so unorthodox a worker as myself. 
It is true that his visit to Potsdam and his enthusiasm 
for the pioneer labors of Vogel in the photography of 
stellar spectra, had modified my impression in some 
degree, especially after the radial velocity campaign had 
been inaugurated with his customary vigor at the Cape. 
But the old doubts still lingered in my memory when I 
met him face to face. 

The cordial hand-grasp and the smile which is still 
before me swept all such vapors away. Certainly no 
space was left for other thoughts when he asked, with 
little preliminary : " What are you going to do with that 

DR. G. E. HALE 307 

five-foot reflector ? " I attempted to sketch the observa- 
tional programme we had been formulating. But before 
I could finish he burst out, " All wrong ! You should 
do nothing but radial velocity work ! " I had scarcely 
begun a defense of my views when the meeting was 
announced, and we were separated until later in the 

We dined at the Criterion with the Astronomical 
Society Club, where I heard again with pleasure the 
informal talk, full of quiet humour, which contrasts so 
agreeably with our set after-dinner speeches. Hardly 
were the toasts concluded when Gill brought his chair 
over to mine, and remarked, " Now go ahead and defend 
yourself." The twinkle in his eye overcame any possible 
fear of aggressive intent, and the cordial interest he 
showed in my plans, which he soon admitted might be 
worthy of a trial, was characteristic of the man. Time 
has shown how much reason lay in his claims for the 
importance of radial velocity measures. Formerly they 
entered only incidentally into my scheme, which was to 
bear directly on the physical problems of stellar develop- 
ment. At present, when half of the time of the 6o-inch 
is devoted to radial velocity work, which will play a 
similar part in the programme of the loo-inch reflector, 
I could hardly argue with conviction against the views 
he then expressed. 

Thus began a friendship which, I am proud to say, 
lasted through his life. 

Dr. Hale goes on to tell of the very great help that was 
given to him by Gill in designing the details, both optical 
and mechanical, of the great loo-inch reflector now being 
installed at Mount Wilson. 

The personal friendship thus brought by Gill into his 
professional relations with astronomers from abroad is 
referred to by many correspondents. The Imperial 
Russian astronomer, Dr. Backlund, says 

Generally speaking, Gill's character was such that 
when he took scientific interest in a person he intermingled 
also personal friendship. Gill was an uncommonly 
harmonic man, in him the highest scientific qualities 


were joined with moral purity. He was one of the 
tenderest of husbands I ever-met ; owing to failing health 
Lady Gill was seldom able? to accompany her husband 
to Congresses ; he then wrote or wired daily to her to 
use his own words " to my darling." 


At the farewell banquet in Cape Town to Sir David 
Gill, the Hon. E. H. Walton, while proposing his health, 
used these words 

We shall miss him and his breezy pleasant presence ; 
we shall miss his resonant voice ; we shall miss his trans- 
parent sincerity his honest hatred of cant and sham and 
humbug. We shall miss his great heart, and his ever- 
ready sympathy. We shall miss him as a friend, and as 
a citizen who has ever been prepared to take on his broad 
shoulders his full share of the duties of citizenship. 

Referring to this speech, the local paper said 

And if the Astronomer Royal will be missed, the 
gracious lady who has been his helpmeet throughout the 
long period of his service in the Colony, will also leave a 
blank that will be felt in the social life of the community. 
Lady Gill may well be regarded as one of the best and 
sincerest friends the Colony has ever possessed. . . . 
The progress of the Observatory-road Church, the estab- 
lishment of nursing centres for those whose means did not 
allow of this necessary aid at their own cost, the founda- 
tion at the Cape University of a Victoria Scholarship for 
Colonial girl students, the extension of the Women's 
Diocesan Association of which she has been the beloved 
president since its inauguration by Lady Loch in 1890 
all these, and several other beneficent works owe nearly 
all they possess of prosperity to her clear intellect, her 
never-failing enthusiasm, and, above all, her unfailing 
tact and iinsparing personal attention to detail. . . . 

It is difficult, too, to depict from the outside the feelings 
Lady Gill excited by years of loving interest in all that 
affected the happiness of those who lived within her own 
immediate circle at the Observatory. 


The love of sport His first great deer-stalk. 

No friend of Gill's ever claimed that he was a great theorist. 
He had none of the speculative power of a Clerk Maxwell, 
Faraday or Kelvin; none of the mathematical depth of 
insight possessed by Stokes or Rayleigh. His intellectual 
power and his upbringing had more in common with 
Stephenson or Brunei or James Watt; or, in his own 
special department of science, with Tycho Brahe, Bradley 
or, perhaps, most of all, W. Struve. 

We often notice that many a man, while striving for 
a position in science, may keep in the background his 
tastes in other directions. Gill could not pose. He 
never desired to appear, to himself or to others, in private 
or in public, in youth or old age, anything but exactly 
what he was. The most stern and unbending of astro- 
nomers, or the most bigoted intellectual, had to accept 
him not merely as an astronomer, but also as a gregarious 
being, fond of society, of music and dancing, of humour, 
of beauty in nature and art, of golf, or of sport with gun 
or rifle. 

To understand the man in his entirety this last point 
must now be accentuated. There is no doubt his early 
skill and precision of hand and eye, with the match rifle, 
was allied to his remarkable powers of accurate observation 
of the stars. 

His care to make every single shot with the rifle tell 
upon his scoring card to eclipse the scores of his com- 



petitors was exactly the same as his care to make every 
single observation with the heliometer tell upon his 
resulting probable error, to eclipse the probable error of 
his fellow-observers. 

The wholesome glow of vitality which,the true sports- 
man feels in a successful stalk, in following a well-trained 
pointer, or in facing the whirr of driven grouse at the 
butts, is not easily acquired by one not bred to it, and 
this spirit was a part of David Gill. It found fuller free- 
dom for its realisation after his retirement. But long 
before that his letters often show his desire to arrange 
an astronomical meeting so as not to interfere with a 
legitimate opportunity for a day on the moors. 

One of the most vivid impressions of the non-astro- 
nomical side of Sir David Gill is contained in a long letter 
to his brother Jem in Australia, in 1901, after one of his 
home visits. If any astronomer grudges this space which 
might have been given to science, he may be surprised 
to know that the greater number of Gill's friends were 
not astronomical; and these friends on their side may 
justly say that, if this book aims at giving memories 
of the man himself, far too much space has been devoted 
to astronomy. 

This letter (most fortunately preserved with many 
others by James Gill) is a sample, and the best possible 
sample, of his enjoyment of life, and of the happiness 
he derived from his very wide circle of dear friends, 
and is particularly valuable as giving his experiences the 
first time he ever went deer-stalking in the highlands. 


1901, February 23. 

MY DEAR JEM, I have been an abominably bad corre- 
spondent, but when I came back here in Nov. I found 
myself so overwhelmed with accumulated arrears of work 
that I put off all private correspondence for that more 
convenient season which is always so long a-coming. 

Y r letter telling me that you had remitted 125 each 

i 9 oo] A REAL HOLIDAY 311 

to the boys and myself from proceeds of Xmas Creek 
is confirmed by the arrival of a letter from Harvey Hall 
and he has doubtless duly sent official receipts. 

I've had an awfully good time at home. 

We sailed on the 8th April [1900] in one of the inter- 
mediate steamers and touched at St. Helena, Ascension, 
Teneriffe and Madeira. Bella was a good sailor for her, 
and arrived in England much better than she left the 
Cape except that a growth under her big toe had de- 
veloped during the voyage, giving her great pain, and it 
had to be cut out under chloroform the day after we 

Our friend McClean (the donor of the new telescope here) 
was waiting at the platform, and we drove to his house 
i Onslow Gardens and stayed with him and his family 
the first three weeks. A few days before the Queen's 
birthday I got an invitation to dine with the First 
Lord of the Admiralty, and fancied from that there must 
be some honour in store. The day before the birthday 
I had an interview with Mr. Chamberlain about the 
political situation, etc. he having sent for me and at 
the end of it he said, " I hoped to congratulate you to 
morrow, but Mr. Goschen has asked you to his dinner." 
When I got back to Onslow Gardens I found Bella and 
Mrs. McClean in great excitement a messenger having 
arrived from the Foreign Office with a letter from Lord 
Salisbury addressed to me, and which of course they 
had opened to find an announcement that the Queen 
had been pleased "in consideration of your distinguished 
position in Astronomy" to create you a Knight Com- 
mander of the Bath and conveying Lord Salisbury's 
personal congratulations. 

We had a very delightful visit to the McCleans its 
only drawback being that Bella was unable to go about 
for the first fortnight till the toe healed. Then we went 
into rooms in Emperor's Gate where we were most 
comfortable, the Landlord being a retired Butler and his 
wife a retired Cook and both excellent. 

The Athenaeum had elected me, under Rule II, a very 
exceptional distinction when one is not resident in Eng- 
land. They used to make me an Hon y Member during 
my visits to England, but so far as I know the only 
members elected under Rule II who are not resident in 


England are Sir Alfred Milner, Mr. Cecil Rhodes, Sir Frank 
Lascelles (British Ambassador in Berlin) and myself. 
Under Rule II nine members are elected annually, but 
the " Club intrusts this privilege to the Committee in 
the entire confidence that they will only elect persons 
who shall have attained to distinguished eminence in 
science, literature or the arts, or for public services." 

Bella, after a little burst of dissipation, found that she 
had to limit her dissipations to two dinners a week 
but I think during May and June I only dined or lunched 
three times at home (except when the McCleans had a 
party at home). Bella's foot began to bother her again, 
and this was a sad worry to her, especially when we 
went in the beginning of July to the McCleans' beautiful 
place near Tunbridge Wells. There I left her at the end 
of the first week of July, and went over for a week to 
Holland, to visit my friends Prof. Kapteyn of Groningen, 
and Bakhuyzen at Leiden and I stopped for a day 
with Sir Henry Howard, our Ambassador at the Hague. 

I picked Bella up at Tunbridge Wells, and we returned 
for a week to our old rooms at Emperor's Gate, went to 
Windsor and rec d my K.C.B. at the hands of the dear 
old Queen, and I believe I am the last man who received 
that distinction at her hands. 

A day or two after that I went over to Paris to attend 
the Astrographic Congress, and remained there some 10 
days, Bella's foot was so troublesome that she could 
not go to Paris with me. Returning to London we went 
a few days afterwards to Harrogate, where I put Bella 
under the care of Dr. Frank Smith (a brother of Elmslie 
Smith of Aberdeen). He seemed a capable man said 
the growth had not been properly excised and proceeded 
to burn out the rest of it with nitric acid. It was a 
horribly painful process but by the end of a month the 
cure was complete, and she has had no more trouble. 

I only remained in Harrogate till the nth Aug* and 
then went north to shoot Andrew's moor ! 

I saw my old friend Tom Duff of Drummuir but he 
had let his shooting. 

I also spent a night with Andrew Baird now a retired 
R.E. Colonel, who has built himself a very pretty house 
near Elgin, and then Andrew and I went to his friends 

i 9 oo] VISITING 313 

Baynes of Finlay where we had a little shoot some 6 or 
7 brace the birds as wild as the wind. 

I drove thence to Allargue, on Donside where I had 
a couple of days with J. W. Barclay 42 J brace the first 
day, and 25 (a short day) the next. From there I drove 
across to Aboyne (stopping by the way to lunch with Sir 
John Clarke at Tillypronie) , dined with Harvey Hall, 
went next day with him to Mrs. Pickering (Bella's cousin) 
at Kincardine O'Neil Castle, where! was strongly tempted 
to stay for salmon fishing an afternoon party at Dess- 
wood, where I met all Deeside, and dinner with John 
White at Bridge of Don. 

Then back to Harrogate. Bella had been well looked 
after at Harrogate by our quondam Cape Admiral Sir 
Fred. Richards, and General and Mrs. Cox (formerly 
commanded the troops in Natal). A few days in Harro- 
gate and then Bella and I went off to Tapton Hall, Chester- 
field, where we spent a couple of days with the Markhams. 
from there we drove to Peversal, where we stayed for 
three days with Lady Carnarvon, who is an old friend 
widow of the late Lord Carnarvon; Bella then went up 
to London and I went to Wynyard Park to stay 3 or 4 
days with the Londonderrys. We had Sir Wm. and 
Lady Har court there, the old Duchess of Cleveland (a 
wonderfully spry old lady considering she was one of the 
Queen's bridesmaids), Lord Shrewsbury (Lady London- 
derry's brother), Canon Tristram of Durham, young 
Vernon Harcourt and his wife, and some others. Bella 
didn't feel able to go and had to excuse herself at the last 

Then up to London. I ought meanwhile to have told 
you that we brought a Miss Rankine with us from the 
Cape, who is a trained nurse so that Bella was never left 
alone. After a week in London I ran back to Ross-shire, 
where I had long promised to go for some deer-stalking. 
There is a young fellow Cookson who is very fond of 
astronomy who is completing his studies at Cambridge 
and is coming here to work at practical astronomy. His 
Father is a very rich man and has the forest of Braemore 
in Ross-shire. I never had a chance of Highland deer- 
stalking and was very keen for a shot. Before going out 
the first day I insisted on sighting the rifle, which had 
been fitted with an aperture back sight and found it 
quite out shooting about a foot too low at 130 yds. 


I found the correct reading viz. 300 yds. for 130, so that 
I felt I could hit anything. ^ 

To cut a long story shorf After a lot of spying &c., we 
found that there was nothing but a long flank movement. 

We were at the point O where we had been spying. 
There were several lots of deer on the opposite hill, but 
none heavy enough to shoot. 

About 12 o'clock 4 deer one of them a big one 
apparently started from C having got our wind and got 
into the moss hag where they rolled or rather the big 
stag did, for half an hour. Then he apparently forgot 
about us and went and laid down at A. " Now," said the 
stalker, " weVe got to go back the way we came, go round 
by the loch, and climb over those hills by the back and 
come down on him." I have shown the line we walked 
till we came to D, then down we dropped flat in the heather, 
and we thought it was all up, for three deer who had been 


feeding at or near the point C, caught sight of us and 
away they went as hard as they could go along the 
dotted line from C, and our friend at A got up to look, 
and seemed on the point of going off too. But we had 
been too quick for him, and after looking for half an hour 
he lay down again and the others at A began to feed. 
Then keeping as flat as we could we crept on hands and 
knees or on belly over any open ground along the dotted 
black line [the line DB] till we were well round the corner 
of the hill. Then we climbed up 800 feet to the top 
and then slithered down a burn flat on our backs then 
crept out of the burn on our bellies behind some low rocks 
and then the old stalker said, " Now if you look round 
that rock you'll see y r stag. He's only 60 yards off, 
behind a rock, you can just see a bit of his back and his 
horns, and you must wait till he gets up before you 

When I looked there he was 

I put the bead on him, crept back to the stalker and said, 

" Bosh, man, I'll hit any square inch of him ." " Na, 

na, ye manna shoot I'd no kill him mysel." "But," I 
said, "it's quite easy, I'll break his back anywhere from 
his neck two feet back that you like." " Well, if you can 
just clear the rock with y r bullet and no more you can 
shoot but I wouldn't if I were you." Back I went, put 
the bead on him waited half a minute to see how close 
to the rock I could shoot to be sure. I knew exactly what 
the rifle w d do at 130 y ds so I said to myself, if I just put 
a full sight on the rock edge I'll just clear safely at 60 yds 
and so I did and fired. The stag didn't move a shiver 
ran along its back and it tried to raise its head that was 
all it was dead. When we gralloched him the bullet 
had entered an inch to the right of the spine and 
passed clean through the centre of the heart and he 
weighed I7 st I2 lb . 


We had a glorious picnic next day and the next I was 
out again. This time the ; deer were on the face of a hill, 
and we could not get at them. The deer were at A and 
B. We got to C and could only watch them and hope 
they w d feed in our direction but they didn't and we 
had to wait till they fed off the forest. About 5 p.m. 
the coast was clear and we had a heavy climb to the top. 
We were hardly there when we saw the tips of a pair of 
antlers and for more than an hour we crept about on 
our bellies. The wind very light and shifty, the stags 
(there were two) unable to make us out and continually 
moving. At last, just as it was getting dark, I saw first 
a pair of horns come up behind a rock at 130 y ds from 
where I was and finally two stags came and looked over 
showing only their necks. They saw something and 

couldn't make out what. I put my bead on the neck 
of the bigger one, but could barely see and took it off and 
on once or twice to make sure then fired, and to my 
great joy over he went. I loaded and went up but he 
was unable to move and the gillie gralloched him. He 
was only I4 st 5 lb but a good head. It was now getting 
dark and before I got to the pony quite dark and then 
a 6 mile ride. I found all at dinner and tremendous 
rejoicings when they heard of my luck. After dinner we 
had the pipes up, turned up the servants and danced 
reels till midnight. 

On return to London we went again to the McCleans 
at Rusthall, Tunbridge Wells, where I left Bella and ran 
over to Paris for 5 days to attend the International 
Geodetic Congress where I proposed my scheme for an 
arc of Meridian along the 3oth Meridian from the Cape 
to Cairo. It was well received. 

i 9 oo] MORE VISITS 317 

After a few days at Rusthall we returned to London 
and then went together to Botley on a few days visit 
to Adm 1 Sir Noel and Lady Salmon (one of our old 
admirals here) and then on to the Isle of Wight for a few 
days with Ad 1 and Lady Hunt Grubbe (another of our 
old admirals). We spent the remaining 3 weeks of 
October in' London, where everyone was very kind to us. 
I gave a farewell dinner to my scientific friends at the 
Athenaeum Lord Kelvin, Hunt Grubbe, Mr. McClean, 
Frank Newall, Christie, Lockyer, Downing, Sir John 
Burdon Sanderson, Sir Bartle Frere, Sir Wm. Westland 
(son of old Westland the' banker), Adm 1 Sir Fred. Richards, 
Ad 1 Sir Wm. Wharton (the Hydrographer) , Sir John 
Ardagh (head of the Intelligence Dept. of the War Office), 
Knobel (Pres. of the R.A.S.), Prof. G. Darwin, and we 
sailed on the 3rd Nov. for the Cape. 

Bella was wonderfully better, but her old headaches 
came back on her arrival here. However I am thankful 
to say of late she has been ever so much better and is 
full of all sorts of plans looking after soldiers' graves, 
a bazaar she is to get up here in November to raise funds 
for our church, etc., etc. 

We saw a good deal of Harry at home. He was with 
us all the month of August at Harrogate. He has grown 
a nice boy but not at all clever, and failed for his first 
army Exam, the other day. Fred is going to be a mining 
engineer passed his matriculation examination and is 
at the South African College and hard at work. Bruce 
is a fine little chap, but very small for his age, but very 
bright and keen. 

* ***** 

All goes well at the Observatory. We are just going 
to put up a New Transit Circle I have also two big 
surveys on hand. The Anglo German Boundary Survey 
between British Bechuanaland and German S.W. Africa 
(both Governments having placed the work in my 
hands), and the geodetic survey of Rhodesia. 

The miserable tail end of this war drags along. 
Marauding bands of Boers go about, plundering and 
stealing and occasionally catching a train. They never 
stop to fight and are as hard to catch as bush-rangers. 
I think they are getting out of ammunition now. 

Fred has joined the town guard and promises to be a 
good shot. 


Do you ever see Sir Sylvester Browne if so remember 
me kindly to him- Bella also. 

How is y r dear little wife ? We long to see her. Give 
our dearest love to her and the same to you. This is a 
tremendous letter but I hope it will interest you. 
Y r loving brother, - DAVID GILL. 

The love for sport, in its truest sense, is manifest in the 
above letter, written in 1901. Even in South Africa he 
often went buck-shooting in Natal, Beaufort West, etc., 
to recuperate. But this taste had the fullest scope in his 
old age after settling at home. He then found that the 
fixed focus of old eyes interfered with accurate rifle 
shooting, so latterly he always used a telescope sight 
when deer-stalking. He went regularly for this sport 
to Ardkinglas, Sir Andrew Noble's estate on Loch Fyne. 
Miss Noble has sent some recollections of his enthusiasm. 



March i, 1915. 



I think one may say that he was happy with us, and 
it was a great joy and pride to feel that it was so. One 
day he had shot stags right and left I think, at all events 
there were two remarkably fine shots and he insisted 
on waltzing with me after dinner in honour of the event 
we were a very small party and my mother had per- 
force to play a waltz and we danced round with great 
gaiety. But he was always contented and happy 
another day he came in just as cheerful as ever but he 
had shot nothing no, but a lovely day a magnificent 
stalk they had seen the tip of the horns with a glass 
and crept up and behold it was a dead stag ! " But 
I had all the fun and excitement of a stalk ! " He was 
always so contented and cheerful and full of fun besides 
his " right judgment " in all things made it a privilege 
to hear him talk. 


Yours affectionately, LILIAS H. G. NOBLE. 


Mrs. Lowe, of Gosfield Hall, Essex, sends notes of some 
days Gill had with her pheasants. 

He shot with us on Oct. 13, 1910. I remark the under- 
growth was so prodigious after the hot summer that no 
ground game could be seen. The bag was 349. Again 
Nov. 9, same year, when he told this story : Two Scots- 
men met one another. " Well, hoo are ye an' the wife ? " 
"Oh! the wife's deid." "Ah so, and hoo was it? ' 
" You see, I found her poorly, so I just gave her a powder 
the Doctor had once put up for me that I didn't use 
an' in twa hoors she was deid. Eh, mon, I was terrible 
glad I had na ta'en it mysel ! " 

1911. He shot on October 12 and the bag was 426 
ph ts and a total of 440. 1912. He shot on October 
nth, temp. 54, a brilliant day. The bag was 504, and 
he came home triumphant and in the bonniest of spirits. 
O so merry all the evening. 

The same year 1912. I have the entry " my dear 
delightful friends arrived, Sir David Gill and Mr. J. 
Murray. At the Cock shoot the bag was 332. Mr. 
John Murray stepped into a hole and hurt his knee." 
But we had a bright evening and Sir David wd agree 
with me " there's nothing half so good as laughing." 

1913. November 13 Our Cock shoot and a cold bleak 
day. Sir David and Mr. Murray Sen r were both with us. 
It poured in torrents at 3 o'clock and the guns came in 
soaked through but Sir David as cheerful as ever 
and so jolly and kind, and so afraid we should think he had 
not enjoyed it. I thought him however looking aged 
and his hair much whiter. 

Further accounts of Sir David's love for outdoor life 
and sport in the highlands appear throughout his corre- 
spondence; and the chapter which will follow, dealing 
with his mode of spending the summer and autumn, in 
the years of his retirement from the Cape, tells the same 



34 De Vere Gardens His " Study " His friends Lady Gill's 
drawing-room His activities in London and Paris His 
troubles London amusements, and occupations. 

WHEN the Gills came finally home, some one said to him, 
" I suppose you will take up your abode in Aberdeen or 
the quiet of the Highlands? " To which he replied, " I 
shall settle down just as near to Burlington House as my 
income will allow me." He had no intention of dis- 
connecting himself from the scientific associations of his 
life even if his days for the regular observation of stars 
were over. 

After a short time spent in looking round, they estab- 
lished their lares and penates in a charming fiat with a 
distant prospect over London, at the top of a house, 
34 De Vere Gardens, Kensington. Here, in his comfort- 
able study, he used to receive his friends, scientific or 
otherwise; and here were discussed many of the great 
astronomical instruments and researches with which he 
was in close contact, dealing with the progress of astro- 
nomy in all parts of the world. His advice was eagerly 
sought, because his vast experience both in construction 
and operation was, in many branches of the science, 
quite unrivalled. His encouragement, too, was enthu- 
siastically given to callers from all parts of the world. 
The astronomer who had new ideas received welcome 
hints. The one who felt the drudgery of a long research 
left that room with an access of youthful enthusiasm. 
The one whose health was broken by his exertions was 



helped to wait in patience, and, when this was possible, 
some of his labours were moved to the older man's 
shoulders. The astronomer who needed support, or even 
financial assistance, found in that study a plan devised 
by which his labours would be appreciated in the proper 
quarter at home or abroad, and his difficulties removed. 

Every one who was honestly doing his best, on leaving 
that study felt how much there is to be done that is 
worth doing ; and what boundless happiness was open to 
any one who could see in the work of to-day " a connected 
portion of the work of life," a something worth striving 

He loved to have in his study a selection of the younger 
men engaged in the active pursuit of astronomy, to learn 
all about their work, to argue for or against some project, 
to suggest alterations or improvements, and generally to 
enjoy himself in a pleasant " crack " over a cigar about 
matters of common and absorbing interest to them. 
Seldom did any of these friends leave his study without 
finding that his own love for science, and enthusiasm for 
his work, had been stimulated. 

At other times the study at De Vere Gardens became 
the scene where was rehearsed the line of action to be 
taken in some co-operative work of science. Many a 
plan was brought to birth at the Royal Astronomical 
Society, the National Physical Laboratory, the Astro- 
graphic Congress, the International Bureau, the Congress 
of National Ephemerides, or the Commission des Instru- 
ments et Travaux, whose origin could be traced to careful 
discussion in the study at De Vere Gardens. 

During his retirement one of his greatest joys was 
receiving visits from foreign astronomers. Professor 
Kapteyn often ran over from Groningen, alone or accom- 
panied by his wife, to stay with the Gills in their flat and 
to discuss some question of sidereal astronomy; and he 
nearly always made London a halting-place in his annual 
voyages to and from Mount Wilson. These occasions 


were seized upon when convenient for getting together 
many other astronomers,.. when the Carte du del or star 
streams would be discussed, or the plan of selected areas, 
or the average parallaxes and proper motions of stars 
differing in magnitude, or the evidence for a light- 
absorbing medium in space, or a rational system of 
photometry. Many a symposium of congenial souls dis- 
cussed there, often in a cloud of tobacco, the nebulae 
and star problems of the outer realms of space. 

At other times the table would be littered with blue- 
prints of machinery, while the director of some foreign 
observatory picked up suggestions about mechanical or 
optical construction. 

When he had a morning to himself there was plenty of 
work to be done, because his astronomical correspondents 
included the occupants of half of the world's great 
observatories. Moreover, he had much to do in the 
writing of papers and articles and lectures, while he was 
never free from the duty of completing in spare hours 
his History of the Cape Observatory, forming an Introduc- 
tion to the Description which he had finished before his 

The wide range of his experience and knowledge in 
literature, science and many arts always kept conversa- 
tion around their hospitable table at a high level. The 
subject depended entirely on the tastes of the guests. 

Thus it happens that many a man who thought he 
knew him well knew only the part of Sir David's mind 
that coincided with his own tastes. One sportsman with 
whom Gill often went out deer-stalking said to the 
writer, after his death, " I knew, of course, that Gill went 
in for astronomy, but it never occurred to me till I 
read the obituary notices that he was anything like the 
greatest astronomer in the world. Anyway, he was a 
good sportsman." 

On the other hand, an astronomer who knew him very 
intimately writes : " No one, I should think, ever talked 


shop more industriously and with keener pleasure. It 
seemed impossible to talk of anything else, except the 
things he was continually revolving in his mind." 

Had this friend met him at a country house party he 
would have had his eyes opened. 

The Astronomer Royal, Sir Frank Dyson, describes his 
first introduction to the study at De Vere Gardens. 

Shortly after his return from the Cape he invited me 
and a few other astronomers to meet Kapteyn, who was 
staying a few days in London on his way between 
Groningen and Mount Wilson. This was the first of a 
number of delightful evenings I have spent with him of 
which I shall always retain the memory. On this occasion 
Gill took us into his study after dinner, and promptly 
started the conversation on star-streams. " Newcomb 
once said to me," he remarked, ' ' There is nothing I 
enjoy so much as a talk with astronomers about astro- 
nomy ' ; and I entirely agree with him." 

The evening quickly passed in conversation on astro- 
nomical topics, diversified by an occasional reminiscence 
or a Scottish story; and one left with the feeling that it 
was a splendid thing to be an astronomer, that there were 
so many interesting things to do, and that it was a great 
honour to be in the succession of such a man as Gill. 

Several times it was my good fortune to go with Gill 
to Paris to one of the astrographic or other conferences. 
All the astronomers there seemed to be old friends of his. 
Talking to this one and that, he assisted the conferences 
most materially in coming to practicable and useful 
decisions. He had, of course, carefully considered the 
questions beforehand. But constantly he would invite 
different astronomers round to the St. James' Hotel, 
where he stayed; and in the lounge of the hotel various 
points were thrashed out, with the assistance of cigars, and 
sometimes French spoken " in all the languages of Europe." 

The conversation did not keep at all strictly to the 
subjects to be discussed at the conference, but often took 
a more personal turn. At these friendly meetings one 
saw how much Gill enjoyed the company of his fellow- 
astronomers, and how interested he was in their welfare 
and the work they had in hand. 

After his return to London he retained a great interest 


in the work of the Cape, and nothing gave him more 
pleasure than the success of the Victoria telescope and 
the new Transit Circle, and the skill with which they were 
handled. He frequently showed me letters he had 
received from Hough and Halm, and he often spoke 
enthusiastically of members of his former staff. 

Two of his friends, to whom he was most attached 
throughout his life, were Admiral Richards and Admiral 
Wharton, who was Hydrographer during a large part of 
Gill's tenure of office. 

Everybody who knew Gill saw his obvious delight in 
everything he did. He had a good many interests 
besides astronomy, and whatever he did was done with 
enthusiasm. This applied from Astronomy, which he did 
surpassingly well, down to golf, from which he derived as 
much pleasure as exercise, but at which he did not excel. 

The visitors to De Vere Gardens soon learnt what the 
Cape had known for twenty-seven years, that this devoted 
couple radiated happiness. Some one once said that Sir 
David Gill must have learnt the discovery made by 
Buddha Gautama, that perfect happiness comes from 
perfect selflessness. It is perhaps more true to say that 
he never learnt it that it was born with him to know 
that he would be much happier in doing something to 
make somebody else happy than in seeing his own body 
lolling in ease, or striving to get the better of his fellow 
men. He certainly loved his wife and loved astronomy 
far more than he loved his own bodily pleasures. There 
is abundant evidence in support of these assertions to be 
found not only during his late years, but in the earliest 
accounts of his childhood; inborn selflessness, with love 
of truth, and patience, were part of him. 

To the writer, this quality of his nature shines out as 
the sole and sufficient cause of Sir David Gill's greatness 
and happiness. Carlyle says that this is the "divine 
relation " which in all time unites a Great Man to other 
men. He goes on 

Of a Great Man I will venture to assert that it is in- 
credible he should have been other than true. It seems 


to me the primary foundation of him, and of all that can 
be in him. This I would say : his sincerity does not depend 
on himself; he cannot help being sincere. 

If any other person who knew David Gill from boy- 
hood to old age, and who has read the outpourings of his 
soul in his letters to numerous devoted friends without 
ever finding a word of unkindness or a word of hate if 
such a man can honestly say he thinks the above opinion 
wrong, then he must find some better explanation for 
the very real happiness that emanated from Gill to 
the hearts of those who sought his counsel or gained his 

It must not be supposed that astronomers alone claimed 
Sir David's time. It may surprise some of these to know 
that they did not form one quarter, perhaps not one- 
tenth, of his intimate personal friends. 

Lady Gill did not interrupt the science discussed over 
cigars in the study, but in her drawing-room one met 
many of the brightest and most charming of those best 
known in London society. It was just the same as at 
the Cape : if you lunched with the Gills you were sure 
to enjoy yourself and likely to form new and delightful 

Certainly the study is not the only room in the De Vere 
Gardens flat to which people now look back with thoughts 
of happy hours spent there. Lady Gill's health was too 
uncertain to enable her to entertain on an extensive 
scale, but perhaps all the more on that account the meet- 
ings of friends there on the most delightful terms left a 
flavour of satisfaction and mental enjoyment which gave 
to them a very unique pleasure. 

It soon became obvious that Lady Gill could not undergo 
the fatigue of enjoying much of their friends' hospitality. 
Yet neither of them wished to pass out of the lives of 
their many friends. So it was agreed between them that 
Sir David should go about as much as possible, and tell 
his wife of all the nice people he had met in their friends' 


houses. This plan solved the difficulty to their entire 
satisfaction. The, result is. that Gill's engagement books, 
which he always carried in his pocket, now show an 
amount of dining out, and lunching out, and after- 
noon calls such as the gayest young bachelor could 
hardly exceed. The Cape had been a place for making 
acquaintance with every distinguished person who ever 
went there. Their number was great, especially during 
the South African War. Add to these his originally 
wide circle of friends at home, and you find a basis for 
the creation of the very widest circle of chosen friends to 
welcome at their homes so charming a guest as Gill ever 
proved himself to be. 

Although Lady Gill's uncertain health prevented her 
from dining out with her husband, the extraordinarily 
wide extent of their intimate social friendships was re- 
markable. These friends, for the most part, joined in 
her interest in all pertaining to the Cape and its people. 
Thus, when she saw the need of funds for the church at 
Observatory Road, she was able to create and hold a 
bazaar in the flat at De Vere Gardens, which was visited 
by their friends, and thus a handsome donation was 
provided for the wants of their old church near the 

In the old days when Gill used to come to London from 
the Cape he was a very unconventional fellow. Residing 
with his friend, Mr. Kershaw, in Hyde Park Gate, 
he would walk every morning to the Admiralty or to 
Burlington House. Those were the days when every 
gentleman in London, without exception, always wore a 
top hat. It used to be a little startling, then, for any 
man to meet his friend, David Gill, tearing through the 
Park in country get-up and a white wideawake. He 
was always in a hurry in those days. Occasionally in 
the old days he looked in at a small scientific club with 
a habitation in Savile Row. Settled now in London, he 
submitted with due decorum to the necessary conven- 


tions, and, naturally enough, the increased weight of 
advancing age and the portly figure diminished the 
buoyant elasticity that his friends recalled; so that in 
these later days we were not so inclined to look upon 
him as an athletic schoolboy. 

Nevertheless, to the last he was an active man, and 
always preferred to walk the whole of the way home 
from the Athenaeum or Burlington House. If the figure 
and gait, modified by the growth of flesh, led him in the 
direction of a more conventional progress, yet it was 
guided by a spirit no less light, no less cordial to friends 
met on the way, than in the old days when he might 
be " pegging away " at the Admiralty with dogged 
persistence for a heliometer. 

It must not be supposed, however, for one moment, 
that his own receptions at home and those daily welcomes 
at the houses of friends completed the total of Gill's 
undertakings when he had finished his morning's work at 
correspondence, etc. 

His sound judgment was requisitioned on the councils 
of scientific societies of which he was a member, especially 
the Royal Society and the Royal Astronomical Society. 
In 1909-10 he was president of the latter, and afterwards 
its foreign secretary. He held the presidency of other 
societies. And not only was he thus frequently chosen 
on account of his knowledge, but by this time the value 
of his name alone on the councils of less distinguished 
societies was recognized as helping their cause. So long 
as an institution was connected in any way with the 
advancement of science he considered it worthy of 
support. He did not disdain the presidency of smaller 
groups like the Optical Society or the Institute of Marine 
Engineers. He did not have that aversion, common to 
many, from supporting those societies in which any one, 
simply by paying a fee, could be enrolled as member of a 
society with a scientific title. He held that every one 
who wished to be included in the list of " scientific men " 


should be encouraged. He was a member of the Science 
Guild. In this way he evn went out of his own line to 
accept the presidency of the Research Defence Society, 
whose work is mainly directed against those who oppose 
vivisection. In Paris he had witnessed Pasteur's in- 
oculations of guinea pigs, and knew the great benefits 
accruing to mankind from these and similar minor 
operations, and he was able to write an effective presi- 
dential address. But he had no actual knowledge of the 
painful operations on animals lasting for weeks, and often 
conducted only for what may be called scientific curiosity 
as to the causes of phenomena. This is one of the rare 
cases in which he was active outside of the sciences of 
which he had practical knowledge. If he had consulted 
his great friend, Lord Kelvin, it is not improbable that 
he would have refused the presidency on the grounds 
that it dealt with a science of which he was not a master. 
For Gill had an affection and esteem for the opinions of 
Lord Kelvin amounting almost to veneration; and the 
writer was much impressed when, at Pitlochrie, he hap- 
pened to mention the very strong terms in which Lord 
Kelvin had spoken to him against vivisection, and Gill 
looked up with a jerk. " Did he really say that ? " On 
being assured that it was so he seemed to be conscious 
for the first time that on this point differences of opinion 
could exist among great scientific men. 1 

No adequate notion could be formed of Gill's main 
activities and interests without some account of his 
international commitments. Of course, he regularly 
attended the meetings in Paris connected with the 
astrographic chart and catalogue, and the part which 
was there assigned to him has been described by Pro- 

1 Lord Kelvin's considered opinion was that " experiments 
involving such torture to so large a number of sentient and 
intelligent animals are not justifiable by either the object pro- 
posed, or the results obtained, or obtainable, by such an investi- 
gation as that described by Professor R ." (Life of Lord 

Kelvin, by S. P. Thompson. London, 1910, p. 1105.) 


fessor Kapteyn in an article from which quotations will 
be made presently (pp. 332, 333). The guidance of a 
master mind had become all the more necessary from 
his failure to carry out the scheme of a central bureau 
for the measurement of the photographic plates and 
their reduction. It is possible he may have indicated 
lines of action that were wrong or capable of improve- 
ment in the paper he was instructed at the beginning, in 
1887, to draw up as a basis of discussion. It is possible 
that the independent action of each observatory in the 
reduction of its own observations may have evolved 
more refined methods than he originally proposed. But 
this independent action has led necessarily to vagaries in 
methods, in the degree of accuracy sought for, in the 
delay of reduction work, and in the form of publication, 
whose worst effects needed even for their partial elimina- 
tion a master hand for guidance. Even Gill's powers of 
organization were taxed to the utmost after failure to 
establish his central bureau, and the best we can hope for 
is that this magnificent co-operative scientific enterprise 
may soon be completed and yield results entirely in 
keeping with the hopes of its original founders. 

Concerning Gill's other international commitments an 
excellent, though perhaps rather technical, account is 
given in the following statement by Major MacMahon, 
R.E., F.R.S., his colleague and fellow-worker in some of 
the matters referred to. 

Sir David Gill was unanimously elected the British 
Member of the Bureau International des Poids et Mesures 
in February 1907 in succession to the late Mr. Chaney, 
who had been head of the Standards Department of the 
Board of Trade with an Office and Standardising Labora- 
tory at 6 Old Palace Yard, Westminster. The Committee 
of the Bureau met every two years at the Pavilion de 
Breteuil near Sevres. He attended the meetings in 1907, 
1909, 1911 and 1913, and the International Conference 
on Weights and Measures in Paris also in 1907 and 


At the meeting in 1907 he was appointed Member of 
the Commission des Instruments et Travaux. As a 
member of this body he proposed the periodical com- 
parison of wave-lengths of light permitting a precise 
definition with the International prototype metre. The 
meeting recommended this proposal to the Committee. 
Sir David took part in the discussions of the Commission 
and the resolutions of the Commission were adopted. 
He at the same time took part in the discussion raised 
by Dr. Stratton, who represented the United States of 
America, to modify the Convention du Metre so as 
to permit the establishment of a permanent " Comite 
Annex " to deal with questions relative to units and 
measurements of light, heat and electricity. Sir David 
expressed the opinion that the International Committee 
should exercise great care and go slowly, and enlarge the 
scope of operations little by little. 

Following the meeting of the Committee the Sextennial 
Conference was held in Paris, and to this Major P. A. 
MacMahon, the Deputy Warden of the Standards of the 
Board of Trade, was the British Delegate and Sir David 
Gill attended ex-officio as the British member of the 
International Committee. The Conference was welcomed 
at the French Foreign Office by M. Pichon in an interest- 
ing address and the business of the conference was mainly 
formal, the most important business being the recom- 
mendation that there should be an International metric 
carat of 200 m.g. for weighing diamonds and other 
precious stones. All the Governments which were repre- 
sented on the Bureau were to be asked to legalize such a 
denomination. For the rest the proceedings were marked 
by much entertainment and hospitality. At all these 
gatherings Sir David Gill was in his element, particularly 
when ladies were present. His great personality and charm 
of manner were much in evidence at a banquet given to 
the Conference by the late Professor Becquerel. The 
proceedings were unfortunately arrested by the sudden 
death of Professor Loewe, the Director of the Paris 
Observatory. Sir David Gill was one of those who repre- 
sented the Royal Society and also the Royal Astronomical 
Society at the funeral. 

At the meeting of the Committee in 1909 Dr. Benoit, 
the Director of the Bureau at Breteuil, called attention 
to the services rendered by Sir David Gill to the Metric 


system in counselling the Indian Geodetic Service to 
express the measure of the Indian base in metres. Sir 
David communicated the results obtained at the National 
Physical Laboratory, Teddington, with a piece of trans- 
parent quartz. It was found that at a temperature of 
400 C. the change of length produced was less than 


The Committee asked for information as to the manu- 
facture of this " quartz fondu," and for samples so that 
experiments might be made at the Bureau to test the 
suitability of the substance for constructing a copy of 
the metre. Sir David also raised at some length the 
question of the metre being defined as the length of one 
kind of metal at o C., whereas in practice other metals 
are used at other temperatures. This meeting was suc- 
ceeded by a meeting of the Astrographic Congress, Sir 
David being present. A banquet was given at the 
Observatory plays were performed afterwards by actors 
and actresses from the Theatre Francais and later on 
there was a dance. Sir D. Gill was in the best of spirits, 
made a speech in French at the banquet, and later danced 
nearly every dance. 

At the meeting of 1911 there was a discussion regard- 
ing " quartz fondu " as a material for standards of length, 
and it was stated that it had been found impossible to 
engrave the denning lines on the material satisfactorily. 
Sir David read a paper by Mr. G. W. C. Kaye of the 
National Physical Laboratory on the construction of a 
metre of transparent quartz. The Sub-Committee on his 
proposition suggested to the Committee that the quartz 
metre destined for the Indian Weights and Measures 
Service should be verified at the Bureau, and in case of 
the comparison being found satisfactory, that one should 
be procured for the International Bureau. This was 
adopted by the Committee. At a later session he sug- 
gested that the Committee should add to their interests 
the subject of the thermodynamic scale of absolute tem- 
perature. He was appointed Member of the Sub-Com- 
mittee to consider whether the Convention du Metre 
should be modified so as to treat all questions of unit 
standards and physical constants. He reported to the 
Board of Trade that certain scientific matters which 
came before the Committee for discussion included the 
finality of the determination of the weight of a cubic 


centimetre of water and the peculiar value of tantalum 
as a material for the construction of standards of 

As regards the use of tantalum for metrological pur- 
poses its extreme hardness, its high specific gravity and 
its absolute resistance to attacks by nitric, hydrochloric 
or sulphuric acid apparently render it superior to platinum 
or iridio-platinum as a material for standards of mass. 
Its cost in the rough is much less than that of platinum, 
and although its high point of fusion and its great hard- 
ness render it difficult to work, it can be produced in the 
form of weights far cheaper than platinum. 

When in Paris Sir David Gill invariably stayed at the 
Hotel St. James and Albany, and the last time he was 
there, in October 1913, he spent a strenuous day at a 
flying ground near Paris. He was very popular with all 
his colleagues of the Bureau and of the Conferences, who 
without exception were his warm personal friends. 

Concerning the Astrographic Congresses in Paris, Pro- 
fessor Kapteyn has given us his intimate observations of 
Gill's activities in the Astrographic Journal, 1914. 

Outsiders who have seen him at work at these con- 
gresses may have been under the impression that it was 
the geniality of his person, his infectious enthusiasm, and 
strong self-reliance which carried the day. But those 
who had followed matters closely would know how care- 
fully he had studied every detail of the matter to be 
discussed, how long beforehand he had extensively corre- 
sponded with the most capable and most interested per- 
sons, and how he brought many of them together a few 
days before the date of the congress, not only to arrange 
the programme for the proceedings, but also to discuss 
informally all the main points. During the whole of the 
congress, too, he would bring the ablest men together for 
these informal discussions. In these Gill would always play 
a prominent part ; sometimes his impetuosity would make 
it far from easy for those opposed to his views to explain 
their standpoint. It might be some time before Gill 
would really give attention to what they had to say, but 
that moment having come, they could wish for no better 
listener, and if they succeeded in showing that their 
point of view was more nearly correct, no man would be 


quicker to recognize his error than Gill. No man could 
be long with him without feeling that here was a man to 
whom the real interest of science was paramount, a man 
who was always ready to sacrifice any pet plan of his 
own to the real interest of astronomy. A favourite 
expression of his, in giving up his opinion, would be : 
" The man who never made a mistake never made any- 
thing." I cannot help thinking that such personal 
qualities his indomitable energy, his broad-mindedness, 
love of his work, kindness his manliness in the best 
sense of the word ; in short, the charm of his strong per- 
sonality, had almost as much to do with his achievements 
as his qualities as a scientist. 

There was no happier man in London during these 
days than Sir David Gill, and few were the source of 
so much happiness to others. The constant worries he 
had experienced at the Cape from attempts to interfere 
with his work no longer existed. He had the joy of feel- 
ing that now, in personal contact with the worlds of 
London and Paris, he had a certain influence which he 
could use in advancing astronomy. This he invariably 
exercised in favour of honest, well-directed, and system- 
atically discussed observation. He did not encourage 
the brilliant speculator who was wanting in patient 
effort, or who would ask him to give up well-tried methods 
of accuracy in favour of some half-digested notions about 
vague possibilities in other directions. 

Of course, this man had his troubles. Who has not ? 
In 1907 Agnes Clerke died; in 1909 Professor Simon 
Newcomb and Bryan Cookson; in 1910 Sir William 
Huggins; in 1912 Admiral Richards and Sir George 
Darwin; in 1913 Lord Crawford; and the illnesses of 
Elkin and of Hale affected him almost as much. The 
one constantly recurring grief arose when his dear wife 
was ill. He suffered deeply, and when he had to be 
away from her every one could see that his constant 
thought was with her. Apart from this, few worldly 
matters upsetting to most people affected his equanimity 


or made him sorry for himself, or wish others to be sorry 
for him. 

There were very, very few of his most intimate friends 
who knew anything of the pecuniary loss he suffered 
through having invested money at the Cape under the 
very best advice he could get there. Few know that he 
had to go to work again to make up this loss. Dr. Elkin 
was always on the most intimate terms with the Gills, 
and in a letter to him, in 1910, Gill mentions this casually 
and as a matter of no consequence. 



April 17, 1910. 

MY DEAR OLD FRIEND, I wonder what you can think 
of me, for my long silence is a disgrace to friendship. 

The fact is that I have had great anxiety and immense 
amount of work. . . . My worry and anxiety has been 
about my wife. She fell ill about the middle of June 



Our money matters at the Cape have gone from bad to 
worse. The investments (ist mortgages on houses) which 
used to bring me 600 a year, brought me 180 last year 
with repairs and taxes to pay, and little or no rent and 
no one will buy the houses at any price. 

So I have had to go to work again. I have written 
some articles, given a few lectures, but have been chiefly 
busy (so far as money-making is concerned) in advising 
Governments about instruments, etc. 

The Transvaal Gov 1 has employed me in connection 
with the supervision of the plans and business arrange- 
ments of the Johannesburg Observatory a matter that 
has cost me an immense lot of labour but work that I 
love and I make it my business, inter alia, to do these 

The Gov* of India has employed me to design their 
new Laboratory at Dehra Dun for standards of measure, 
and the comparators for 4 metre bars, Jaderin wires, etc. 
I have also been inspecting Geodetic Instruments for the 
Gov te of Australia and Siam. 


But you have always been in our thoughts, and I have 
always had it in mind to write to you. 


We are both terribly sorry to hear that you have been 
obliged by ill health to retire. 


Percival Lowell is over here just now. He held forth 
one afternoon at the R.A.S. Showed us photographs of 
Mars on the screen, and pointed out Canals which none 
of us could see. The same evening he gave a lecture at 
the Royal Institution and here again I failed to see any 
Canals, but his planetary photographs were most beautiful. 

But I have been studying some of his slides since at 
leisure, directly, and I am bound to say that I have seen 
a few markings which are quite unmistakable such as 
Schiaparelli and Lowell have described, tho', of course, 
not in the profuse abundance mentioned and described 
by them. 

I must say that I can no longer doubt that there are 
markings on Mars of the kind, but I cannot agree with 
the interpretation that Lowell puts upon them. 

But there is no question that, at Flagstaff, Lowell 
must have a steadiness of definition which is extra- 
ordinarily great and his work is of a very high order. 

Now, my dear old chap forgive me Believe me, you 
have no truer friends than my wife and I. We both join 
in love to you and your dear little wife, and in the hope 
that you will long be spared to enjoy y r otium cum 
dignitate et honore, Y r true old friend, DAVID GILL. 

He undertook the children's Christmas lectures at the 
Royal Institution (as he writes to Kapteyn) " for filthy 
lucre," and gave other popular lectures, for which he had 
no great aptitude as he did not know how to slur over 
difficulties after the manner of popular lecturers ; and he 
started a fairly profitable business as a consulting astro- 
nomical engineer. This part of the work he thoroughly 
enjoyed. But scarcely one of his friends knew that he 
was following the noble example of Charles Dickens or 
Mark Twain under similar conditions. Of course, he was 
not seriously crippled by such an affair, but while careful 


in his expenditure, he was one of those free-handed men 
who are always ready with a bank-note when a real case 
of distress comes before thtem. His correspondence shows 
some cases where he was imposed upon. 

Sir David Gill derived much exercise and pleasure from 
golf. Mr. Alexander Davidson, his old student friend at 
Aberdeen, who had also visited him at the Cape in 1898, 
induced him to join the Royal Wimbledon Golf Club and 
the Wimbledon Curling Club, and writes 

Though an indifferent exponent of either game, no 
man could throw himself more completely and more 
whole-heartedly into the spirit of play than did our 
many-sided astronomer. I remember one occasion when 
we were curling at Wimbledon in the winter of 1906-7 
which he was fond of talking over with great glee. A 
scratch match at curling was got up in the afternoon 
England v. Scotland. Gill and I were among the Scotch, 
and notwithstanding the enthusiasm of my friend we got 
into a very despondent condition as the game progressed, 
being four points down when we had to play the last end. 
As luck (and perhaps careful play) would have it, we 
unexpectedly in that end got five stones in and won the 
match. Then Gill's exuberance fairly boiled over, and 
cheering vociferously his example so infected the rest of 
our team that we fell to shaking hands and drinking 
healths all round, and had we been Frenchmen instead of 
Scotsmen I have no doubt we should have embraced each 
other in the way that foreigners do. 

Gill was no adept at any games like golf or billiards, 
which require constant practice. Yet he was ever willing 
to take a hand and to do his best. He even entered 
a billiard handicap at the Athenaeum Club. On that 
occasion his opponent, settled by lot, was a magnificent 
player, the best in the club at that time. By his handi- 
cap Gill began the game a long way ahead of his opponent. 
He pegged away in the hopeless task, every little score, 
or miss, on his part being generally followed by a fine 
break on the part of his opponent, and the distance 

GAMES 337 

between them rapidly diminished. At last he exclaimed 
in despair to a friend, " I feel just like a rabbit with a 
weasel after me." 

The following letters to Elkin exhibit some of Gill's 
activities from 1908 to 1910. 


December 15, 1908. 

MY DEAR ELKIN, The Comptes Rendus has just 
arrived, and I rejoice we both rejoice to see that the 
French Academy of Sciences has awarded the Lalande 
Medal to you and Chase. We send our most loving and 
sincere congratulations. 

They have just created a new Chair Astrophysics 
at Cambridge, and appointed Newall to fill it. That also 
has given us great joy. 


I am at present very busy about Astrographic Congress 
matters for the re-union at Paris, April 19-26. We 
hope you are both coming. 

Write soon. With our united love. Ever thine, 



1909, March 14. 

MY DEAR ELKIN, Y r letter of the 26th Feb. duly 
reached us with its burden of sad news. . . . 
We too have had just a similar sorrow. 


We go on the 22nd inst. to Paris. . . . 

On the 3 ist we go to Porto Fino near Genoa to 
spend a fortnight with Lady Carnarvon at her beautiful 
place there, returning Apr. 17 to Paris for the Astro- 
photographic Meeting. 

On Friday last I took my seat as Pres. of the R.A.S. . . . 

We are not coming to Winnipeg. 


But we have made up our minds my wife and I to 
come across for the Solar Union meeting in 1910. . . . 

I fear very much I shall not be able to see dear old 
Newcomb when I come. He wrote me such a programme 
and was to go about with me. But a day or two ago I 


had a letter from his daughter, Mrs. McGee, from Paris 
to say the operation he recently underwent disclosed a 
malignant turnout,' all of .which could not be removed. 
One knows too well what that means. Apparently he 
does not know, nor do his American friends know, how 
serious is his case, for Pickering wrote me that Newcomb 
had a benignant tumour, and was planning long journeys. 
So apparently his American friends do not know. Thus 
please keep what I tell you as confidential lest the matter 
should get to his ears. 

Mrs. McGee we hope to see in Paris before she leaves 
it on the 25th or 26th inst. to sail from this Country on 
the 3ist, " unless she is cabled sooner." 


Bella will write to your wife soon. Our love to you 
both. Ever thine, DAVID GILL. 


December 12, 1910. 

MY DEAR ELKIN, . . . I have had a great deal of 
work in connection with the design of the Johannesburg 
telescope 26 in. aperture and with the designs for a 24 in. 
aperture equatoreal for Ristenpart at Santiago, including 
rising floor and dome. I have exactly similar work, 
namely a refractor of 35 ft. focus (aperture whether 24 or 
28 in /not yet decided) with a rising floor and dome for 
Nicolaieff, and also a reflector of one metre aperture 
equatoreally mounted for the Crimea [Semeis]. 


I have seen a good deal of Hale since he came over. . . . 
He has brought me the working plans of the 100 in. 
Reflector. ... I am to report any suggestions in regard 
to them to Mount Wilson. . . . Ever thine, 




Seventieth birthday Monumental book on Cape Observatory 
Illness and death. 

HAVING now shown in what direction his occupations 
lay during the years of his retirement in London, it remains 
to tell about Gill's manner of spending his holidays in 
the summer, full of the enjoyment of country life. 

The year after his arrival in London, i. e. in 1907, he 
was president of the British Association at Leicester. 
The preparation of his address naturally occupied his 
thoughts a great deal. The meeting was a great success, 
and no one enjoyed it more than Sir David and Lady 

FISHER'S HOTEL, PITLOCHRIE, September 21, 1907. 

MY DEAR ELKIN, We are so glad to have your letter 
from Zermatt, and to hear that on the whole you are 
better. High bracing air is the thing for you I am sure. 
* * * # * * 

We had a very pleasant meeting at Leicester and, 
so far as I know, not a hitch or unpleasantness of any 

The mighty atom figured largely in the discussions of 
Section A, Kelvin approaching the static, Oliver Lodge 
the dynamical condition. Much talk, little reality so 
far as a definite conclusion is concerned. 

There were many interesting papers many of which 
I could not hear as the President is expected to visit all 
the sections. 

The local arrangements were excellent, and hospitality 

We came from Leicester to Aboyne on Deeside, which 



I made a centre, for grouse-shooting and as Sir Fred. 
Richards put it I- had " a J)eesidedly engro using time," a 
vile but accurate descripti6n. Then I visited my brother 
near Rothes on Speyside and then we came on here a 
few days ago. I have again been shooting here. We 
intended to go from this to stay with-. Lord and Lady 
Kelvin till October but just as we were starting poor 
Lady Kelvin had a stroke of paralysis. She has recovered 
speech and clear thought but her left arm remains without 
power of motion. We are terribly distressed, for the y 
are both old and dear friends and he is in so many things 
entirely dependent on her. 

We remain here till the 26th when Bella goes to London 
and I go to Sir Andrew Noble's place at the head of Loch 
Fyne to try to shoot one of his stags. 

On the ist Aug. [Oct.] I go to Glasgow and deliver a 
lecture there on October 2, returning to London the 
following day. 

On Oct. 7 I go to Paris for the meeting of the Inter- 
national Committee of Weights and Measures and remain 
there till Oct. 23. A day or two in London and then 
we go to Pixton Park in Devonshire for 10 days. I to 
shoot pheasants. Shall you be in Paris between Oct. 7 
and 23 ? if so I fancy that is our only way to meet. 

From Nov. 9 to 19 I am giving lectures in Glasgow, 
Edinburgh and Dundee and then return to London and 
to work. 

Both of us have greatly enjoyed our holiday and are 
wondrous well. 

Yes let us keep henceforth more in touch. God bless 
you our love to you both. Ever thine, DAVID GILL. 



1908, January 20. 

MY DEAR ELKIN, Don't think ill of me in that I have 
been long in answering y r letter of the 9th Dec 1 . 

When it came I was just in the thick of starting prepara- 
tion of a series of 6 Christmas lectures to be delivered at 
the Royal Institution. They involved an enormous lot 
of work far more than I anticipated for the audience 
is a very difficult one to please and expects much not 
much in the way of deep science but of pap-food, 
peptonized with a continuous flow of experiments, 

1907-14] HOLIDAYS 341 

diagrams and slides and all " adapted to a juvenile 
audience/' The juvenile audience ranged from 5 to 
93 years of age and they were all pleased. So you see 
I must have had a lot of work. Indeed, I had to put all 
my correspondence aside and work at the R.I. laboratory 
hard for a month or more. One newspaper reporter 
declared that after lecture V [on prisms and spectra], a 
little girl in a red hat was overheard to ask her mother, 
" Why did they put the spectre in prison " ! ! Two little 
girls who wore red hats, and whom I knew, refused to go 
to the next lecture in red hats, and insisted on wearing 
green ones. 

But this is all beside the mark only to explain my 

Now, dear old man, don't worry about this idiotic 
business of Hastings' criticism of y r parallax work. . . . 

I only wish that Hastings had read and printed his 
paper, it would have been such fun to demolish him. I 
always enjoy any criticism of the kind, for example, 
Rambaut on the parallax of a Centauri. You should 
try to feel the same way, my dear old man for if anybody 
knows about the Helio meter and parallax work you do. 

Kapteyn has just been over with us on a short visit 
and to discuss a lot of things with me. He is "as busy 
as the Devil in a gale of wind " as old Sir Fred. Richards 
says. (You must remember Sir Fred. He was our 
Admiral at the Cape when we first came, and we see him 
every few days now.) 


Bella joins me in warm love to y r dear wife and yourself. 
Ever thine, DAVID GILL. 

In 1908 he received the Gold Medal of the Royal 
Astronomical Society (for the second time). His holiday 
took the Gills first on a visit to Sir Frederick Richards 
at Horton Court from July 2 to 22. They then went, 
accompanied by Sir Frederick, to Strathpeffer, July 24 to 
August 19. His earlier grouse plans were interfered with 
by the illness of his wife. Then they went to Aboyne. 
He had two days' grouse shooting with his cousin, Colonel 
Ogston, at Kildrummy Castle, Strath Don. Then at 

342 LAST DAYS [CHAP, xxvu 

Aboyne till he had to go to Dublin, staying at Lord 
Iveagh's, to resign* his presidency of the B.A. They left 
Aboyne September 10 to visit Mrs. Pickering (Lady Gill's 
cousin) at Kincardine O'Neil, and he shot there. Then 
partridges in Buchan and a day or ,two in Aberdeen. 
September 25 saw him off to Glasgow, Inveraray, and 
Ardkinglas, where he had a fine stalk. Then motored 
to Loch Goyle Head, thence to Greenock, Glasgow and 
London, which he reached October 3. 

On October 8 he was at Oxford for the jubilee of the 
opening of the Oxford Museum. Later he presided at 
the Paisley century celebration of the Philosophical 
Institute, " where Coats has given them an excellent 
little observatory/' 

In 1909 the Gills went to Paris for the Weights and 
Measures, then visited the Dowager Countess of Carnarvon 
for a fortnight at her beautiful place at Porto Fino near 
Genoa, returning to Paris April 17 for the Astrographic 
Congress. He was now president of the R.A.S. Lady 
Gill's sister Bessie, whose health for many years was an 
anxiety, died on February n. They buried her in the 
family ground at Foveran. In the summer they were 
chiefly on Deeside, and returned to London for the 
National Geodetic Congress beginning September 21, 
and continuing in Cambridge September 27-30. 

His dear friend, Simon Newcomb, died this year in July. 

In 1910 Lady Gill's health broke down and she was 
under special treatment by Dr. Bruce and his father in 

The serious illness of his wife in 1910 was a great grief 
to him, and also put an end to hopes which had been on 
the point of fructifying for some years. In fact, before 
the death of his friend Newcomb he had been attempting 
year after year to visit the observatories of the United 
States and to meet his friends there. He had at last 
decided to do so in this year 1910, when he could meet 
all the American astronomers at the great Solar Union 

1907-14) WALES AND SCOTLAND 343 

Meeting. The disappointment, when it now became 
impossible to carry out this plan, was very great indeed. 

In this year Sir William Christie retired from Green- 
wich Observatory, and Mr. Dyson (now Sir Frank) was 
appointed Astronomer Royal. No one appreciated the 
service rendered to accurate astronomy by this appoint- 
ment more than Sir David Gill. 

In 1911 the Gills left London on July 14 for Llandrindod 
for the waters. Then to Aboyne and Pitlochrie, three 
weeks at each, with much shooting. Then he spent three 
days with Sir Charles Parsons, shooting his grouse. Lady 
Gill was then to visit Lady Kelvin while Sir David stalked 
deer at Ardkinglas, but Lady Kelvin's illness interfered. 

In 1912 they did much the same. After Llandrindod, 
at the end of July, they settled at Pitlochrie as a head 
centre from which he could go shooting. Fred Powell, 
his second nephew, was home on leave from India. Gill 
left him with his wife at Pitlochrie while he shot grouse 
in Northumberland with Sir C. Parsons, and he also shot 
over moors in Perthshire, etc. Then they had a week 
in Aberdeenshire and Gill joined Sir Andrew Noble on 
Loch Fyne ; but was recalled from there to London 
to attend the funeral of his dear old friend Admiral Sir 
Frederick Richards. At the close of this year he also 
lost his very dear friend, Sir George Darwin. 



1912, September 4. 

DEAR LADY NOBLE, I arrived here at 11.45 last night 
train 35 minutes late and found my wife decidedly 
better. I have just returned from Sir Fred. Richards' 
funeral. You will doubtless find in the newspapers a 
list of those present. 

The day was beautiful, so were the surroundings I know 
so well and the grand old man was laid to rest in the 
place he loved, surrounded by old and loving friends. 

344 LAST DAYS [CHAP, xxvn 

My wife attended the memorial service at Fulham 
where about 200. people were present. 

My mind is so full of my dear old friend that I can 
hardly thank you all properly for all the kindness 
and great enjoyment I had in my too short visit to 
Ardkinglas. . 

You were all so kind to me, the weather was so beautiful 
and the glory and beauty of everything so supreme, that 
nothing was left to desire and I did enjoy my sport so 

* * * * * * 

As I write I have received a terrible blow a letter from 
Lady Darwin has this moment arrived she says, " After 
hoping and hoping that George would recover without 
an operation, finally he had Sir George Bradford down 
to consult. He advised an operation. It was done and 
found not to be gallstones but a growth on the pancreas. 
He had a night of discomfort and pain but his pulse is 
good and the doctor thinks he is getting over the shock 
of the operation very well. The end will come in a few 
weeks, but without pain." 

I cannot quote the rest of the letter it is the cry of a 
loving woman after a perfectly happy married life looking 
forward to the coming loss God comfort her. 

This is a sad letter to send you I cannot help it. 
George Darwin is very dear to me and his death will be 
a sad blow to British Science and to many a one who 
loved and honoured him. I can only hope that the 
doctors may be wrong thoug;h I fear the worst. 

My wife desires to join with me in kindest remem- 
brances to you all, and in hearty thanks for all your 
kindness to me. She sends her love to you and Miss 
Noble. Yours most sincerely, DAVID GILL. 

The following note is at the end of a letter to Sir Howard 
Grubb, dated October 12, 1912 

P.S. I have received a letter informing me that at 
the last annual meeting of the Astronomical and Astro- 
physical Society of America resolutions were passed to 
modify the constitution by which it was resolved to make 
it possible to elect one Honorary Member at the Annual 
Meeting the Hon. Member not to be an American. 

1907-14] MORE HONOURS 345 

To elect the first Member a ballot was taken, each 
member writing down on a separate piece of paper the 
man he thought most worthy to be ist Hon. Member of 
the Society. Three fourths of the members, I am told 
by Pickering, wrote my name and recommended it to 
the Council which unanimously elected me. I feel it 
a great distinction, but I think they could have found a 
more worthy man. D. G. 

This note will help the reader with a knowledge of 
the man's character to appreciate the spirit in which he 
received all such distinctions. On nearly every such 
occasion, if he happens to be writing to an intimate 
friend, he analyses the value of the testimony, often 
discounting the personal friendship which led to it, 
considers the claims of others, and with no mock modesty 
rejoices at the evidence of appreciation shown to his 


LONDON, April 5, 1913. 

MY DEAR BAILLAUD, ... I have received with much 
pleasure and gratification from M. Cambon the insignia of 
Commandeur de la Legion d'Honneur which I owe, I am 
sure, to your friendly influence, and I am very grateful 
indeed to you for the good opinion of me you must have 
entertained before submitting my name for such a high 
distinction. Monsieur Cambon also showed me a letter 
from Sir Edward Grey, conveying the consent of His 
Majesty the King that I might accept and wear this. 
This is a privilege that is accorded on very few occasions 
to British subjects in the matter of foreign orders, and I 
am deeply indebted to Monsieur Cambon for the personal 
interest which he has taken in this matter. 

With kindest remembrances to Madame Baillaud and 
yourself in which my wife desires to join, and with 
warmest thanks for your friendly offices, 

Believe me, Always yours most sincerely, 


The German Order Pour le merite had also been con- 

346 LAST DAYS [CHAP, xxvil 

ferred upon Gill, the highest honour in the power of that 
country to bestow. It inay be recalled that, when this 
honour was bestowed upon Auwers, Gill, in writing to 
Mr. Knobel (p. 210), said, " I regard it as the highest 
distinction open to a literary or scientific man." On 
the evening when he received the news that this order 
was awarded to him he muttered, more to his pipe than 
to his wife, " Well ! I am an overrated man ! " This 
was his honest conviction, Lady Gill assures us. 

Sir David Gill's seventieth and last birthday was 
celebrated at De Vere Gardens on June 12, 1913, with 
great happiness to all concerned. Numerous letters 
and telegrams conveyed the hopes of his wide circle of 
friends that he would be spared for a great many years. 
These cannot be reproduced. A few letters only are 
here inserted to show the character of many. 


MY DEAR GILL, This day must be a memorable day 
to all astronomers. But to no one so much as to me 
and if I wish that you may be spared long to enjoy much 
happiness and joy, I say nothing but what I have prayed 
for since the time I first knew you. 

This day let me thank you for all that you have been 
in my life. 

The time of our first correspondence was for me a time 
of great discouragement. With an ardent desire to make 
something of my life I found that I had been pretty much 
wasting some of my best years. This has been changed 
from the moment you entered my life. I know that I 
have helped you somewhat in your work; but you have 
helped me far more and if now, not so far from the end 
of my career (I am sorry to say), I feel that I have been 
of some use to our beloved science, I owe this to you. 
You have given me occasion, help, encouragement and 
more than all that friendship. It is not only the astro- 
nomer that you have helped on, but the man. I think 
I picked up something of your great " Lebensweisheit," 
of your capacity of making life a joy to yourself and to 


others. My heart is full of gratitude this day. I have 
admired and loved you since first we met, no, the first 
at least, much longer. 

Let me conclude with the selfish wish that you let me 
keep a good place in your affection for the time that we 
may still have to dwell on this planet and let me add my 
very best wishes for the health of your beloved wife. 
Could but wishes be of any avail, how soon she would be 
restored. Ever thine, J. C. KAPTEYN. 


1913, June 13. 

yesterday not only your telegram but those touching 
and beautiful letters from you both. 

If all you say is true and I am sure you think and 
believe it so the best day's work for astronomy that I 
ever did was to bring you into my astronomical work 
or rather to have the good fortune to accept the aid 
you offered. What that has meant for astrononty all 
astronomers know and what I feel about it, and all the 
love and honour I have for you only my wife knows. 

Long may you live to adorn astronomy and if you 
can be sure of anything in this wicked world you can 
be sure of my love and friendship as long as I live. 

To MR. JOHN POWER (at the Cape Observatory) 

LONDON, 1913, June 12. 

MY DEAR POWER, I am writing on behalf of my wife 
to thank you for your kind letter of the I7th May and 
on my own behalf to thank you for the kind message for 
me which it contains from you and yours, and which has 
just been delivered to me. 

I have also received the very welcome and kindly cable 
from the staff of the observatory which reached me last 
night. All this has touched me deeply. 

I am sending a general reply to Dr. Halm which I am 
asking him to pass round to the staff. 

This evening Dyson, Hills, Hough, Newall, Knobel, 
Chapman (Chief Ass 1 Greenwich) and Prof. E. C. Pickering 
are dining with me to celebrate my birthday, and tele- 
grams are coming in, including a most touching one from 


He and Mrs. K. will be here on the i6th and lyth and 
on the latter day I have a gathering of astronomers to 
meet him. On the iStlf he sails for Mount Wilson. 

Thank God, my good friend, I am feeling a younger 
man than when I last saw you nearly 7 years ago and 
I am just as full of love and interest in ,the old Observatory 
as ever I was. I would write you more but I have many 
letters to write and little time in which to write them. 

But I can never forget your good work and your 
devotion to the Observatory and the true friendship 
you have shown to me. 

I am delighted to get from Mr. Hough the same story 
of your devotion and zeal. I wish I could send you good 
news of my wife's health she has been far from well of 
late but she joins me in kindest remembrance and love 
to you and yours. Ever thine, DAVID GILL. 


LONDON, June 13, 1913. 

MY DEAR FRIENDS, I must write you all a few words 
of thanks for the cable message of heartiest greetings. 
It is indeed good to be so kindly remembered by those 
who worked with me so happily and so cordially for so 
many years. 

No one knows better than myself how much I owe to 
you all for without your earnest and faithful co-operation 
the Cape Obs y could never have reached the position which 
it now takes amongst the great observatories of the world. 

At three score years and ten a man is apt to look back 
upon his past life and review it in his mind's eye. In 
doing so I am bound to say, with thankfulness, that in 
my life the joys have far outnumbered the sorrows, and 
that the days I spent amongst you at the Cape were 
amongst the happiest of a happy life, thanks to the 
common bond of friendly good will that it was my good 
fortune at all times to receive at your hands. 

One of the greatest joys of my old age is to watch the 
progress of the Cape Obs y and to find that my old fellow 
workers are still as keen as ever and that the dear old 
Obs y is still to the front and going on to higher and better 

I write of my old age as my years entitle me to do 
but in truth I feel a younger man than I did when I left 


you nearly 7 years ago and I w d fain hope I may yet be 
spared for a reasonable number of years to watch the 
progress of the Obs? and rejoice, as I do now, in its 

It has been a very great joy to me to see Mr. Hough and 
to get news at first hand of all that is going on. In his 
capable hands and with the fine equipment of the Obs* 
the possibilities of the future are very great. I earnestly 
ask you all to continue to him the same good will and the 
same cordial co-operation which I always experienced 
at y r hands, and which you still show to him. 

I know he has the best interests of the Obs? and of 
y r selves individually at heart. 

It is a great thing in life to have a good and worthy 
object always in view and it is y r duty and privilege 
to have such an object, viz., the progress of the great 
scientific institution with which you are connected. 

I know y r goodwill and I think our old friendship 
permits me now to say such things to you not by way 
of reproof, for none is needed, but just to stimulate you 
all as y r kind thought of my birthday has helped and 
stimulated me. 

My wife is no less grateful than myself for y r kindly 
message, and she desires me to add her thanks and 
kindliest remembrances. 

I wish that I could give you a better account of her 
health, but I am sorry to say that for the past 2 or 3 
months she has been suffering more than usual from the 
old continuous headaches which prevent her from taking 
part in social life. But these drawbacks do not interfere 
with her loving remembrance of all her old friends on 
the observatory hill, and she joins me in our grateful 
thanks for y r kind thoughts of us. Believe me, one and 
all of you, Yrs most sincerely, DAVID GILL. 



1913, July 6. 

MY DEAR ELKIN, ... I have had a lot of work in 
connection with optical glass am president of a Com- 
mittee appointed by the National Physical Laboratory 1 

1 [The success of Sir David Gill's efforts are told in the follow- 
ing extract from the Royal Society Report of Council, 1915, p. 9 : 

350 LAST DAYS [CHAP, xxvn 

and Messrs. Chance of Birmingham are making great 
efforts so that I think our troubles will ere long be 
over. But, as matters sand, we have not got a single 
disc for any of these telescopes [Johannesburg, Santiago, 
Nicolaieff , Semeis] except the disc for the 40-inch reflector. 

The comparator for 24 metre tapes is off to India. 
The 4 metre comparator has been a long time under trial 
and used for determination of temperature coefficients, 
and I finally passed it as perfect a few days ago. 

On June 12 I celebrated my 7oth birthday and 
Pickering, Dyson, Hough, Newall, Chapman (now Chief 
Assist, at Greenwich), Hills and Knobel dined here. On 
June 16 Kapteyn and his wife came to London on their 
way to Mount Wilson, and the following afternoon we had 
an astronomical convention at my house with most of 
the above, and Eddington, Rambaut and Schleisinger 



Ever thine, DAVID GILL. 

Lady Gill writes 

On that 70 th and last earthly birthday after David's 
guests had left (and he had gone to the kitchen to shake 
hands with the cook now my valued maid) he burst 
into my room like a schoolboy with a face of radiant joy, 
exclaiming, "The happiest birthday of a happy life, my 

What a boy he always was ! Truly, those whom the 
gods love die young. 

In 1913 Sir David gave his hearty support to the new 
observatory started by Sir Norman Lockyer, with valu- 
able assistance from Mr. Frank McClean's sons, 1 at 

" The work of Sir D. Gill's Committee, appointed in 1912 to 
consider the question of a Research into the Manufacture of 
Optical Glass, is now bearing fruit. The Treasury, on the motion 
of the Board of Trade, have promised grants of 1,500, 1,500 
and 1,250 in this and the next two years ; much of the neces- 
sary plant is at the [National Physical] Laboratory, and the 
experiments have commenced. The Laboratory has been in 
communication with the Institute of Chemistry with reference 
to this work."] 

1 William McClean acted as Hon. Sec. on Sir Norman's com- 
mittee, and his brother Frank presented his father's telescope 
and other instruments. 


Sidmouth and, as Chairman of the Appeal Committee, 
obtained invaluable financial and scientific assistance for 
that observatory. He also assisted Sir Norman in the lay 
out and instrumental equipment of the observatory. The 
success of these efforts was ensured by the general sup- 
port of astronomers, and by none more than M. Deslandres 
of Paris. 


SALCOMBE REGIS, SIDMOUTH, November 22, 1912. 
MY DEAR GILL, It is very good of you taking all this 
trouble. You and Deslandres will end by making me 
conceited ! 

This subject was matter for a very long correspondence 
about the removal of the Solar Physics Observatory in 
the course of which Gill wrote on December 10, 1911 


I feel that you and your work have been treated most 
unfairly that the conclusion of the Committee is con- 
trary to such evidence as has been collected for I 
entirely concur in Glazebrooke's view of it. Evidence 
on a much broader basis and of a very much more con- 
clusive character was required before the organization 
which you founded and have carried on so successfully 
for so many years was ruthlessly upset. 

In the course of that letter, Gill's outlook upon con- 
troversies is illustrated by his suggesting a certain altera- 
tion of verbiage in a certain protest, " on the principle that 
you will catch more flies with sugar than with vinegar." 

In 1913 Sir David Gill gave much help to the Maharaja 
of Jhalawar l in his plans for building an observatory in 

34 DE VERE GARDENS, 1913, May 23. 

MY DEAR MAHARAJ, I am sending you, enclosed, a 
business letter about your proposed telescope and 

1 H. H. Raj Rana Sir Bhawani Singh. 


My wife and I cannot sufficiently thank you for all 
your kindness to my nephew. He has written to us two 
long letters full -of all Ms wonderful and delightful ex- 
periences and of your kindness and hospitality to him. 
I fear that you have been too kind to him and that his 
normal soldier life will appear very humdrum to him after 
all the excitement and fun he had with you. 

I could not write you last week as I was away, as I told 
you I would be, on a visit to the Duke and Duchess of 
Northumberland at Albury Park near Guildford. Sir 
Archibald Geikie was amongst the guests you know, and 
Lady Mary Meynell with her son and daughter (she is a 
sister of my old chief, the late Lord Crawford). I wish 
you had been able to be present at the Great Albert Hall 
meeting on the 2ist, when Commander Evans gave an 
account of the Antarctic Expedition with magnificent 
lantern slides. There was not a single vacant seat 
over 10,000 people all in full evening dress present. 
I have just sent the last pages of my history of the Cape 
Observatory to press. In a month or two it should be 
published, when I will send you a copy. 

There is no history of the Royal Astronomical Society. 
My wife's book, Six Months in Ascension, is out of print 
long ago I am trying to find a copy for you in the 
second-hand book shops. I will write you further ere 
long. Meanwhile I hope to have your decision about the 
telescope. My wife desires to join with me in kindest 
remembrances. Yours most sincerely, DAVID GILL. 

The year 1913 found the Gills once more at Llandrindod, 
and again they made their headquarters for the summer 
at Pitlochrie. From this centre he was able to pay visits 
as usual to his friends, when he shot grouse on their 
moors. He was also within easy reach of Blair Castle 
at Blair Athol where he was able to keep up his old 
friendship with the Tullibardines, and was again a welcome 
guest at the Duke of Athol's highland gathering. He 
also left Pitlochrie for a few days in September to attend 
the British Association meeting at Birmingham. 

Here, also, he finished the index and completed his 
monumental work, the History and Description of the 
Cape Observatory, and was much relieved to get it off his 

i 9 i3] "FINIS CORONAT OPUS" 353 

hands. It had cost him much labour during the years 
since he left the Cape. Much of the work upon it was 
done during the last three years of his life in the present 
writer's " Shed " at Pitlochrie, a kind of hermitage 
containing a good scientific library and other things of 

This splendid folio volume x was almost the final act 
of his official life. On its last page might be written the 
words Finis coronal opus. It describes all the instru- 
ments added by him to the Cape Observatory and is a 
worthy successor to W. Struve's description of Pulkowa 
Observatory. It also contains a complete history of 
the Cape Observatory, and, most interesting of all, an 
actual autobiography of himself so far as his scientific 
work is concerned. It is for this reason that the present 
volume deals with his scientific work only in so far as 
parts of it serve to illustrate the character of the man. 
The printing of the History, etc., was completed, and the 
book was circulated among his friends before his final 
illness. Subsequently, during and after that last illness, 
these friends uttered a paean of thanksgiving that he had 
been able to leave behind him this imperishable memorial. 
Dr. Backlund of Pulkowa has beautifully spoken of the 
book as Gill's Swan Song. 

Dr. Auwers, who died at the age of seventy-six, in 1915, 
one year after Sir David Gill, to the very day, January 24, 
wrote his last letter to him in November 1913, in a very 
cramped handwriting, to express appreciation of his book. 
There is something pathetic about the almost illegible 



IQI3> November 13. 

MY DEAREST FRIEND, Last week I received the copy 
of your History and Description of the Cape Observatory 

1 Published at H.M. Stationery Office. Price 255. 
A A 

354 LAST DAYS [CHAP, xxvil 

announced some days before by your last letter, and I 
read at once a good deal of the history and turned over 
the drawings of ,the instruments erected since 1889 
[1879?] then the volume was laid aside for a time, to 
be more carefully read when my eyes are in a better 
condition than presently. In the now prevailing dark 
weather it is difficult for me to read any longer time, and 
artificial illumination makes things only worse. But I 
have read enough of the big book, to learn that it is full 
of interest, the more so to those who are acquainted with 
the Cape Observatory and its astronomers, and will 
prove useful for astronomers in general. You can be 
proud to have written that book, the largest part of which 
is a history and description of your own scientific life ! 
Indeed, the words of Sir John Herschel, who in his 
obituary of Bessel so justly said of Bessel with regard to 
astronomy : " Lateritiam invenit, marmoream reliquit," 
will with the same right [be] applied by the history of 
our beloved science to you with regard to the Cape 
Observatory ! 

I thank you very much for the beautiful present you 
make me with the volume, and thank you most sincerely 
for the very kind and friendly terms in which you acknow- 
ledge my share in the common part of our astronomical 
work. You only should not, in connection with the 
observations of 1889, have spoken of self-sacrifice on 
my part which you feared would never be adequately 
repaid the pains I took to assist you in an important 
undertaking were fully repaid at once during my sojourn 
at the Royal Observatory, by the profound strengthening 
of your most benefiting friendship and by the gain of 
your most excellent and truly adored wife's sympathy. 
These four months of 1889, indeed, were one of the most 
happy periods of my life and there was nothing of self- 
sacrifice in connection with them ! 

Your letter of June last was like a blow on my head 
I was quite ashamed to have forgotten your 7oth birthday 
and can only so late afterwards express my satisfaction 
and joy that you have reached this term so full of health 
and activity. The reason why I always delayed to offer 
you afterwards congratulations has been, that I hoped 
this would be done in a more legible form than by these 
lines if I waited, but there seems to be no hope of recovery 
from the lameness of my arm which nearly prevents me 


from writing (it is not from apoplexy as you might fear 
to infer from this statement, but age), the hand not 
following the orders given to it and making only micro- 
scopical motions, by which I compose these lines only 
with extreme difficulty, and fear you will find considerable 
difficulty to read them. 

(Cont d Nov. 16.) I forgot the approach of your 7oth 
birthday under the impression that you were far more 
than five years behind me in age an impression occa- 
sioned by the still continuous amount of your activity in 
life and science ! Both of us have worked enormously, 
but you have taken the better part, in caring for a relief 
for mental exertion in out of door exercise, which I 
neglected too much, and besides, you are benefited with 
a happier temper which much contributes to keep you 
young. In my feeling of shame on behalf of my forget- 
f ulness I was a little comforted by remembering that once 
Lady Gill, too, forgot your birthday in the preparation 
for Ascension ! 

The idea of the British knights of the order p.l.m. 
to congratulate the Emperor on his jubilee, was a very 
good one certainly the Emperor will have been much 
pleased by this greeting. 

I amused myself about your " skrupel " (I do not 
know the English word, " hesitation " is not quite the 
same) how properly to address me. My official title 
is "Wirklicher Geheimer Ober Regierungsrath," which 
means a Councillor of the first class (there are five classes), 
but this holds good only when I have to do with the 
Court and the Court-officials, otherwise I do not lay any 
stress upon titles and honours except those of a scientific 
character, and to my English friends I prefer to remain 
always the " Dr. Auwers " whom they knew so many 
years and to whom so many men on the other side 
of the channel, men still living and, alas, more men 
already gone have been kind throughout all this time. 
It is since 1866 that I was an Associate of your 

I feel very sorry you could give only so unsatisfactory 
news of Lady Gill's health ! She wrote me a welcome 
letter two months ago, and wanted to know our present 
lodgings I address to her by this same mail, a post 
card bearing a photograph of it. 

Always your sincere friend, A. AUWERS. 

356 LAST DAYS [CHAP, xxvn 

Dr. Hale wrote from Pasadena, on December 6, 1913, 
a letter to Gill which he never saw. In it he says 

I have been reading your book on the Cape Observatory 
with the keenest interest, and wish to thank you very 
heartily for sending it. What a satisfaction it must be 
for you to look back upon so much work accomplished ! 
But your present activity bids fair to yield an equally 
important contribution to science. May your days be 
long in the land ! 

All scientific men felt that the publication of this book 
marked the closing record of a life continuously, selflessly 
and ungrudgingly devoted to the service of astronomy. 
There can now be no indiscretion in telling what was an 
open secret, that in 1913 Sir David Gill's name was before 
the Council of the Royal Society for the award of the 
Copley Medal, their highest means of recognition. Post- 
ponement for a year, which all present thought quite 
safe, was preferred for three reasons : the recent award to 
Sir David of a Royal Medal in 1903, Sir David's presence 
upon the Council, and the urgent claims of the actual 
recipient. His is not the only case (e. g. Poincare) in 
late years where postponement has meant " too late." 
[Cf. p. 379, letter to Newcomb, on the award to him of 
the Copley Medal, dated January 14, 1891.] 

This bald narrative of Gill's activities is now nearly 
concluded. It is partially supplemented by extracts 
from letters in the Appendix to some of Sir David's 
dearest friends. These, chosen as samples, convey far 
more the spirit of the man in work or pastime, and the 
ever-ready friendship. They recall the cordial hand- 
shake, the interested smile, the merry eye-twinkle and the 
sincere voice of the man who could count his enemies at 
any period of his life on the thumbs of one hand. 

The seeds of Gill's last illness were probably laid at 
Sir Robert Ball's funeral. On December 6 he went to 
Cambridge, walking with Knobel and Dyson from the 
station in a thick greatcoat and getting overheated. He 


then attended at King's College Chapel without his over- 
coat. It was a treacherous day, and after the ceremony 
he stood about the quad conversing with others. There 
can be no doubt that he thus caught a chill, just as Knobel 
did, and both were eventually laid up. 

About this time he was several times out pheasant 
shooting, and at least on one occasion came home 
thoroughly drenched. He suffered a little from colds 
and had an attack of deafness. There was nothing to 
cause alarm. 

On Friday, December 12, he attended the meeting of 
the Royal Astronomical Society, and handed over to the 
society the photograph of the moon which he had taken 
in 1868 and had presented to the late Sir William Huggins. 
On going home he again complained of deafness, saying 
that he had found difficulty in hearing what was said at 
the meeting. 

On Saturday, December 13, he saw the doctor, who 
attended to his ears, after which he seemed to hear 
better, but in the evening he was dull and heavy. 

On Sunday, the I4th, he took a short walk with Lady 
Gill in Kensington Gardens and the Park, but returned 
sooner than usual as he complained of being tired. He 
remained at home all afternoon, setting aside his invariable 
habit of attending the Sunday afternoon concerts in the 
Albert Hall. 

He did not go out on Monday, December 15, but 
wrote a little for his Introduction to De Sitter's work on 
Jupiter's satellites. After dinner he had a slight shivering 
fit which might be due to influenza, but on Tuesday, the 
i6th, Sir Lauder Brunton pronounced it to be double 
pneumonia. Pleurisy followed, with much pain while it 
lasted. These symptoms disappeared, but the strain on 
the heart's action had been too great. 

Then followed five weeks of perfect patience and calm 
on the part of the patient, of hopes and dreadful doubts 
on the part of all his friends, with days of ups and of 


downs. At the January meeting of the Royal Astrono- 
mical Society the President*, Major Hills, was able to say, 
" to-day there is a distinct improvement," and mingled 
with other marks of gladness, the audible sigh of satis- 
faction from the breasts of such an audience brought a 
lump to the throat. 

Throughout the illness his weakness was so great that 
visitors could not see him. He had hardly the strength 
to speak. On the morning of January 24 he passed 
quietly away in the arms of his beloved wife. 

The sorrow which fell upon his friends was profound, 
and the consternation with which the news was received 
by astronomers was almost incredible. He had been so 
vigorous to the end that his guidance in great co-operative 
works had been confidently expected to last, at least, for 
ten more years. At the time of the fatal announcement, 
after the long period of hope and dread, it seemed to his 
astronomical friends that the progress of astronomy had 
been suddenly stopped. In some of its greatest under- 
takings the two years that have followed seem almost to 
confirm this foreboding. The astronomical world hardly 
knew till that moment how much they were relying upon 
this man for their guidance in so many things. This 
has been the universal testimony of those who had worked 
with him. 

During one of his last visits to Aberdeen, undertaken 
in connexion with a proposed Chair of Astronomy at that 
university, he had wandered with the Principal, Sir 
George Adam Smith, over the beautiful and ancient Old 
St. Machar Cathedral ; and, struck by the solemn beauty 
of the site, he there and then purchased the site of a 
grave for his wife and himself, situated in a ruined part 
of the Cathedral. 

On January 27 a small company of devoted friends 
accompanied the body to King's Cross station, and 
with it his widow, accompanied by a nurse and a few 

i 9 i 4 ] THE FUNERAL 359 

relatives and friends, travelled to Aberdeen by the night 

On January 28 a large and representative body of 
mourners assembled at the station, and subsequently 
joined the funeral cortege which proceeded to St. Machar 
Cathedral, in Old Aberdeen. The coffin was hidden by 
the wreaths, which numbered nearly one hundred, and 
included floral tributes and tokens from all parts of the 

The interment took place outside the existing cathedral 
building in what was formerly the north aisle of the 
transept, close to the site of the great altar, an impressive 
service being conducted at the graveside by Canon 
Erskine Hill of St. Andrew's Episcopal Church, Aberdeen 
the church in which Sir David Gill was baptised, in 
which he worshipped in his early days, and with which 
his people had been connected for many years. 

The pall bearers were Mr. A. J. Mitchell Gill (brother) ; 
Mr. A. W. Mitchell (cousin) ; Principal George Adam 
Smith (representing the University of Aberdeen) ; the 
Right Hon. Robert Farquharson of Finzean, Vice- 
Lieutenant of the County of Aberdeen, representing 
Lord Aberdeen; Mr. Harvey Hall; Mr. William Black; 
Professor Niven ; Mr. A. J. W. Storie ; and Dr. Bruce. 

The tenants on the estate of Blairythan were represented. 

Floral tokens were sent by the observatories of the 
Cape, Greenwich, Paris, Pulkowa, Mount Wilson (U.S.A.) 
and other scientific bodies. 

At the same time a memorial service was held at St. 
Mary Abbot, Kensington. It was conducted by Pre- 
bendary Pennefather, assisted by the Rev. C. Balmer, 
and was attended by a large number of the sorrowing 
friends who mourned his loss. 

The following description of the grave was written by 
Lady Gill herself 

" My sacred ground lies in Old Machar Cathedral, 
within, and on the west side of, the half ruined wall of the 


north transept built by Bishop Lychton in 1430. This 
part of the transept is known as St. John's Aisle, and 
when the ground was being made ready for my beloved 
dead, there was evidence to show that he lies near the 
foot of the high altar. ^ 

" This wall being under the control of ' The Com- 
missioners for the Preservation of Scottish Ancient Build- 
ings and Monuments/ I had to obtain their permission 
to remove the disfiguring whitewash in order to insert 
the mural tablet. On that being done, seven roughly 
dressed sandstones were discovered just over the centre 
of the ground, which, according to Mr. Kelly (an Aber- 
deen architect and antiquary), indicates that they 
formed part of a pier between two long narrow windows. 

" The tablet, as well as the curbstone and corner blocks, 
is of grey Aberdeen granite and the connecting bars are 
of bronze. The grave is turfed over and no flowers are 
placed upon it, except when I am able to renew them 
daily only the chaplet of laurel leaning against the old 

" David himself chose the ground in 1909, while we 
were staying at Aboyne near Aberdeen, during the 
summer of that year. He spoke enthusiastically to me 
afterwards of the sanctity of the site and the peaceful 
beauty of its surroundings, and so we decided to buy this 
ground for our burial. 

" I never saw it until the 28th of last January, when 
we laid him to rest. 

"I. S. G. 

[To face page 360. 





Letters to Miss Agnes Clerke, Professor Simon Newcomb, 
Professor Kapteyn and Professor G. E. Hale. 

SIR DAVID GILL was a voluminous correspondent during 
every part of his life. When Airy and Adams were gone there 
were no renowned astronomers left in England who could co- 
operate with him in his particular lines of research. His 
situation in the southern hemisphere detached him from 
insularity, and his astronomical correspondence acquired a 
cosmopolitan character. His long letters, commonly of fifteen 
or twenty pages, quarto, contained valuable discussions. 
Those dealing with the design and methods of using instru- 
ments of precision would form the basis of a valuable text- 
book. For the purpose of this book only a small selection of 
letters can be inserted, as examples of the spirit in which 
he maintained friendships with astronomers in all parts of 
the world. 


A letter, dated November 7, 1888, gives her information 
about the progress of solar parallax observations on Iris by 
himself and Finlay. 

CAPE OF GOOD HOPE, November 14, 1888. 

MY DEAR Miss CLERKE, Our week's work on Iris is as 
follows. [Details given.] 

So you see only one day has been lost in the week. You 
really have run away from the fine weather, ft Hydri is 
polished off, a Gruis and Fomalhaut are in hand in the 
evenings the division errors drag their slow length along 
the photographs go on the bar comparisons the meridian 
observations the observation of occupations, the zenith 
telescope and the theodolite work, but I am too hard-pressed 
for eyesight to deal with star spectra. I must wait till Iris 
is over. 



Grubb sends out his plan of the Dome which has been 
approved by the Admiralty. It is two feet bigger than I 
asked for ! ! ! They abused me for asking a 20 ft. observa- 
tory and wanted to make me adopt 18 feet. After a fight 
they agree to 20 feet, and now they want to give me 21 
feet 10" ! ! ! But my foundations are , laid for the 20 ft. 
observatory. . . . 

More news next week. Always y r sincere friend, 


CAPE OF GOOD HOPE, November 28, 1888. 

MY DEAR Miss CLERKE, We were glad to hear that 
reasonably good arrangements had been made to convey you 
home and that all were well on board I only trust your 
good people at home were not much frightened. [It appears 
that Miss Clerke's ship had a collision with the Tartar (1). 
Here follow details of Iris observations.] 

Last week we put on the micrometer again on the 7" Equ 1 , 
and had a clean up there. Finlay and I roared with laughter 
on examining the floor your track on the floor in search of 
the Decl n circle was marked by a perfect deluge of oil what 
state are the dresses in in which you observed ? These spots 
shall be sacred as Rizzio's blood in Holyrood Palace. I can 
only send a few lines this mail. Always sincerely y re , 


CAPE OF GOOD HOPE, December 12, 1888. 

MY DEAR Miss CLERKE, We were so much delighted to 
get y r letters from Madeira, and if we only learn by to-morrow's 
mail that y r people at home were not anxious about you we 
shall feel quite content that you had a little adventure by the 

I got a blowing up about my last letter to you it did not 
go through the censor's office, and I am told on the best 
authority that had it been submitted to that ordeal it would 
certainly have been added to the Suppressed Correspond- 
ence. It was very unkind of me to put in anything about 
oil and the search for the Decl n circle in fact I caught it a 
Tartar so did you by the way. 

My little wife has not been well for the past fortnight 
severe continuous headache. We are going off to Kalk Bay 
for a week's rest and change. 

Iris has ended quite triumphantly with good observa- 
tions on Nov. 28, 29, 30, Dec. 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10. On 
Nov. 10 [Dec. 10 ?] I recorded for the first time in my life 
Images I Steadiness I absolutely perfect definition and at 
a zenith distance of 70. So far Elkin has corresponding 


observations on about half the total number of nights but 
his last report only goes to Oct. 27. We have so many ob- 
servations after Nov. 2 that we can almost make sure of 
utilizing any observations whatever that Elkin may get. In 
all we have 43 nights on which observations were secured 
and to-night and to-morrow night are still before us. 

Last night we had another Remenyi Concert truly 
glorious how I wish that you could have been here to hear 
him he is coming out here this afternoon. 


My wife sends her kind love give my kindest regards to 
all y r home circle. Believe me always y r sincere friend, 


CAPE OF GOOD HOPE, January 16, 1889. 

MY DEAR Miss CLERKE, I am afraid I am what our 
friend Major Morris would call a " baad booy." Just after 
the Iris observations were over we went to Kalk Bay, and 
there I lay on the rocks and read trash for a week and was 
much the better for the process. 

We came back for Xmas. Sir Chas. Metcalfe dined with us 
in the middle of the day and told us all about his adventures 
in Bechuanaland when surveying the railway which I earnestly 
hope may be made. Boerdom and the Bond are of course 
against it. Then we all turned out on the lawn and played 
at rounders with the Finlay, Pett and Maclear youngsters till 
we were fairly done up. Then the world was filled with the 
excitement of a cricket week. Major Morris was quite mad 
for 8 or 10 days and did nothing but go and watch the 
English v. Cape matches a dissipation which he has averaged 
by tremendous hard work ever since. 

We have had since Dec. 28 the finest run of weather I have 
ever seen at the Cape exquisite clear sky no south easter 
and superb definition. 

So the Heliometer has been very busy both evening and 
morning. I was just on the verge of knocking up when a 
couple of cloudy nights last night and the preceding one 
have given me rest. 

So busy was I that I had almost overlooked my Report to 
the R. A. S. for the year I wrote it last night and it will 
be just in time. You will find y r visit mentioned. 

I hope y r article will come out in the January N of the 
Contemporary. I much wish to see it. The Observatory 
letter reads well. 

I am glad to hear you are so fairly in the way to mark, 
learn and inwardly digest all possible particulars of the 


Herschels are you going to Collingwood? You will like 
Sir William I think. I had much pleasure in making his 
acquaintance at Oxford in 1877. 

Tell me about any news of y r book in Germany. I don't 
think y r music loving Dublin friend is wrong an hour or 
two of Handel & Co. every day will brighten the Astronomy 
and do you good to say nothing of the joy you can give to 
y r astronomical and other friends. Believe me life is not too 
short nor the day too short for a little music every day and 
when we come home in 1890 I hope to hear some results of y r 

Mouchez writes me again that the 1891 meeting will after 
all be the important one, but that one could not lose the 
opportunity of the exhibition to have a meeting in 1890. 
I do not see the connection myself but I am not French. 
So we shall leave the exhibition to take care of itself but 
come to the meeting of 1891. 

I think that Dr. Auwers will come in June for 3 months 
and take part in the observations of Victoria. It will be a 
great joy to me to have him here. 

The chief observatory event is the arrival of a baby the 
Father Mr. Ray Woods is beside himself with pride and 
joy. Before the arrival his chief thought was the Durch- 
musterung Mr. Merriman who had been absent for a few 
weeks in the Transvaal had not heard of the new arrival, and 
on meeting Mr. Woods by chance enquired as usual after the 
" magnum opus," expecting a detailed account of progress 
in the photography of the S. hemisphere. Imagine his sur- 
prise when Woods gushingly replied, " Oh, very well indeed, 
thank you, such a fine fellow, and as like his mother as 

V) Argus is still brightening quite 6| mag. but I cannot 
yet make out a distinctive spectrum colour reddish orange. 

I wish one had more time and could go on for ever at work. 
But 3 sets of Heliometer obs. at night and 3 sets of div n 
errors by day are as much as my eyes can manage and I 
cannot go skipping about the pleasant fields of miscellaneous 
observing till I have broken the back of my Heliometer 
work However, y r bequest rj Argus shall be carefully looked 
to. ... 


Always sincerely yours, DAVID GILL. 

P.S. Poor Christie last mails news of the death of his 
wife is very sad. I feel for him most sincerely he was 
deeply attached to his wife and she to him her loss will 
make a sad blank in his life. 


CAPE OF GOOD HOPE, March 9, 1889. 


I must plunge at once into the interesting matter of y r 
Chap. XVII. You will find y r MSS. (herewith returned) 
disfigured by pencil scribblings all along the margins 
written in the delighted and at the same time critical attitude 
of first perusal. I think you will find them legible enough 
but perhaps not very useful. On two or three points perhaps 
it is necessary to explain further. [Here follow valuable 
facts, chiefly historical, for Miss Clerke's sole use. Only one 
criticism, illustrating the man's mental attitude, is suitable 
for these pages, where he says :] I cannot bear metaphysical 
questions such as so many of my countrymen love -but I 
confess to you that I do not like the airy way in which you 
make the assertion " since the stellar system is of finite 
dimensions/' If you adopt the theory that the star clusters 
form part of our sidereal system and are not separate and 
more distant systems of which there may be an infinite 
variety and infinite number if you mean by the stellar 
system all those bodies which we call stars and which 
represent to our eyes the largest part of creation that we 
know which indeed so far as our minds can grasp such a 
thing, are the whole embodiment of existent material matter, 
then you are by this statement placing a limit to the extent 
of existent matter which I find it as difficult to do as to limit 
the conceptions of infinite power and of an infinitely powerful 
creator. It is useless to pursue an argument on such a sub- 
ject you come at once to the unbreakable and insurmount- 
able wall against which all the mental philosophers and meta- 
physicians have been beating their heads since the days of 
Plato without making the slightest impression against that 
obstacle the boundary wall of the little hollow sphere which 
limits the mental conceptions of man, and which by death he 
alone can pass to the freedom of the space beyond to the 
wider knowledge of God and his creatures. 

If you say, " Provided that the stellar system is of finite 
dimensions " then so and so you are then in a strictly 
logical satisfactory position. 

[The letter proceeds to describe and discuss the plan which 
Professor Kapteyn had just sent him for obtaining stellar 
parallaxes accurately and in shoals by exposing the same 
photographic plate at two intervals of six months. He also 
describes a plan privately put forth by Pickering for producing 
a photographic chart of the whole heavens in both hemi- 
spheres, with a single specially designed telescope, in a few 


years. He says : " As a mere map making plan this is infinitely 
superior to the Paris plan, and will cost in the end far less."] 

I am glad to- have som explanation of the non-appearance 
of y r note in the Feb? number of the Observatory. There are 
few reasons I could excuse more readily than the distraction 
produced by golf. 

There is no star on y r list marked r. Velorum. There is a 
star r Argus io h ij m 30 s , 41 5' 29", mag. 5-3, N 310 of y r 
list. Y r only note is " observed Oct. 10 when spectrum 
seemed continuous." I will look the matter up after publica- 
tion of y r note in March number. 

What a most wonderful photograph that is of Roberts of 
the Andromeda nebula a nebular Saturn ? with all manner 
of subsidiary vortices in the rings. It must influence your 
views on the nature of nebulae. 

I should say most decidedly stick to Dreyer's Catalogue, 
and its numbers, it is practically complete certainly so for 
your purposes. 

I cannot write more this mail. I can only thank you for 
the great pleasure that the reading of this chapter has given 
me, and I should very much like to see others. 

My chief news is that Dr. Auwers is to sail for the Cape on 
May 3 to pay us a visit that is a great joy. 

The survey reductions are finished and Morris left yesterday 
for Port Elizabeth to resume field work. 

The Transvaal is beginning the geodetic survey which I 
planned for them. I have its scientific direction, and one 
of their surveyors came down a week ago to remain a few 
months and practise astronomical observations of Latitude, 
Longitude and Azimuth. I have long worked for this and 
am happy in its realization and think that in course of a 
few years we shall be able to show important geodetic 

My little wife is fairly well a little return of the old 
suffering. She joins me in all kind messages to you and 

Believe me always y r sincere friend, DAVID GILL. 

Where did you pick up such a " sporting " phrase as 
" Swiftness may be safely backed against conspicuous lustre " 
(p. 18). Was it in the Bohemia of the observatory or in the 
racing society of Government House ? ! ! ! 

CAPE OF GOOD HOPE, March 15, 1889. 

MY DEAR Miss CLERKE, Your letter of I4th Feb? has 
just arrived, and the Chapter on Star Distances was sent 


off by last mail with numerous notes thereon. Elkin will 
certainly work further on a Lyrse but his results are un- 
questionably far more trustworthy than any previous deter- 
minations of the parallax of that star although I confess to 
you that it is almost impossible to overturn Brunnow's 
evidence the first paper of the Dunsink Series. And" yet we 
have in a second paper of the same Series, on further measures 
of a Lyrae, a confession and a proof of change of habit in 
bisecting the brighter star. That is really the root and the 
foundation of the Heliometer method you perfectly equalize 
the brightness of the two images under measurement what- 
ever change of habit of bisection may occur it affects equally 
both stars and the two opposite pairs of stars, and its effect 
on the parallax entirely disappears. 

With bright stars the chromatic dispersion of the atmo- 
sphere produces probably a different displacement of the 
point bisected than it does in case of faint stars and there 
are other curious sources of error when stars of dissimilar 
brightness are compared. Then again, as I pointed out in my 
marginal notes, there is proof in Elkin 's work alone of con- 
siderable possibilities of variation in the absolute parallax of 
the comparison stars. 

The details of Elkin's work are not yet published but I 
should say on the whole it must be and is most thoroughly 
sound. But we can only talk of absolute parallaxes now 
when we have determined parallaxes relative to a number of 
comparison stars and have some sound notion of the average 
parallax of such comparison stars. 

The review of y r book in the National Zeitung is evidently 
a species of German Jingo production, and y r sister's guess as 
to the origin of the inspiration of it may be nearer the truth 
than she supposed when she made her joke. It is rabid 
nonsense to say that the German Transit of Venus results 
will be peculiarly triumphant, as I happen to know more 
intimately than most people do Dr. Auwers, the organizer of 
the whole work and the Editor and reducer of the results. 
His view is that the chief value of the expedition was the 
determination of the geographical positions of many places 
not well known before, the impulse to invent new methods 
of astronomy and new instruments which was the indirect 
result of turning many minds to one subject. The resulting 
parallax will be an approximation to the truth but by no 
means a definitive settlement of the question. This is Auwers' 
idea and he knows more about the matter than any one else 
at present and certainly a great deal infinitely more than 
y r reviewer. More than that, he is coming out here himself 
to share in the work of the Victoria Observations in June, 


July and August, because with you he believes that the Helio- 
meter-Minor-Planet-method is the right one. 

* ' * jk * * * 

I don't see that you could depart very far from the historical 
style in the star distance chapter. You cannot evolve stellar 
parallaxes from y r inner consciousness and you must be 
peculiarly careful about facts. 

I want to see the other chapters as soon as you can let me 
have them. I write at once and in haste for many things 
press. Always Sincerely Y re , DAVID GILL. 

[P.S.] There are some good notes on Stellar parallax in 
the Sidereal Messenger for Feb? by Monch (p. 62). 

I have just got a formal letter from Tacchini with a Diploma 
intimating my election as a corresponding member of the 
Italian Spectroscopic Society. It must be a sort of token of 
favours spectroscopic to come from me for I don't think I 
have done much as yet to promote spectroscopy. I had 
perhaps some claim to the Acad. Line. Rome, but none to the 
Spec c Society. D. G. 

FRENCH HOEK, April 7, 1889. 

MY DEAR Miss CLERKE, We came here 8 days ago for a 
little holiday after the summer heat. Since the beginning 
of the year my little wife has been suffering from the old 
trouble and pain which she had before you came to the Cape. 
Only on this occasion the suffering has been more continuous 
and more severe. 


I have had a terribly busy time. One by one my com- 
puters have been going off to the gold fields and I have had 
to write to the Admiralty to send some out from England, as 
no suitable young men can be found at the Cape. Thus I am 
not able to write you as much as I would wish to do. 

But now to resume the thread of our correspondence. 
[Further considerations re parallax of stars, and particularly 
of Groombridge, 1830.] 

The Contemporary article arrived on the eve of our leaving 
for this place, and I read it in the train. I have since re-read 
it carefully. . . . 

The paper reads delightfully in print. All papers do read 
so much better in print than in MSS. and you know how 
much I liked it in the latter form. You are really most 
eloquent on the flowers, and almost equally so on the southern 
stars. I should have thought it w d have been the other way 
but then you use such a delightfully astronomical and at the 
same time absolutely perfect expression " a Milky Way of 


lilies " that I don't know whether the flowers owe most to 
the stars or the stars to the flowers. 


I look forward to reading Ball's article in Macmillan 
such articles as that are very helpful they accustom the 
public mind and the minds of those who hold the purse strings 
to the needs of astronomy. 

I do not think you have seen the Orion Nebula with the 
naked eye. You have seen, as I see, a rather ill denned 
looking star which looks as if it were several stars together 
too close for definite separation by the naked eye but I do 
not think that any one could say, who did not know that there 
was a nebula there that is either a nebula or a star cluster. 

Now you can say that of the Andromeda Nebula and of 
many star clusters like Presepe in Cancer but I do not think 
any one could say so of the Orion Nebula. I certainly cannot 
say that I see more than the possibility of a few fairly bright 
stars near each other, and my eyes are as good as those of 
most people. 

I was delighted to see that Mr. Roberts x had presented 
Ball with a Reflector. Ball will use it well and he will 
probably develope accurate measurement by photography. 
He has a very fine mechanical genius and will plan his work 
well. He is getting a little past the time of life when men 
like much getting up in the early morning at the uncomfort- 
able hours which rigid parallax observations require, when 
all possible personal errors have to be investigated but he 
will get a photographic assistant to do that for him, and will 
look to the measurements and their planning and discussion 



I am delighted to hear that Common has got an assistant. 
Such an instrument as his deserves to be worked at every 
opportunity and a busy man like Common cannot do that. 

I am delighted to hear that the giant glass discs are cast 
for the Calif ornian 5 foot refractor [sic]. I hardly agree with 
you that 3 foot is the limit of useful size. ... 

I hope they will go in for a better mounting. I warned 
Newcomb of the error of the American tendency. The Lick 
mounting is unquestionably too light How I should like to 
plan a mounting for the 5 foot. It will be a great pity if this 
5 ft. is not in some way available for photography. 

Many thanks for the references to Ball's, Holden's and 
Sir C. Metcalfe's papers in various magazines. I shall read all 

1 [Isaac Roberts.] 


with much interest, and I shall always be very grateful for 

similar references in future,. 

Always Sincerely Y, DAVID GILL. 

CAPE OF GOOD HOPE, July i, 1889. 

MY DEAR Miss CLERKE, I have allowed several mails to 
pass without telling you that y r two Chapters arrived safely. 

Auwers and I have gone over one, and I hope before next 
mail that we shall be able to go over the other also and I 
hope to have time to send you a letter about them. I only 
write now a few lines of apology. I am so busy. 

Most of my computers are off to the gold fields even 
Mr. Freeman is gone, and having cabled for more from England 
the Admiralty want a report which I am now writing. 

Natal wants a decision from me about her share of the 
survey and this is the time for preparing estimates for next 
financial year and the new Photographic Dome is being put 
up and the Victoria Observations, and arrangements for 
telegraphic longitudes on the W. Coast of Africa Capt. 
Pullen as travelling observer, All was just ready, his personal 
equation determined, and he was to sail in H.M.S. Peacock 
and behold to-day that ship is ordered off to Delagoa Bay 
with H.M.S. Bramble also to look after British v. Portuguese 
interests there. So new plans have to be made. 

So I am in a snorl of work, and you will I hope excuse 
these hurried lines from y r Sincere friend, DAVID GILL. 

P.S. 16 sets of parallax obs. of Victoria up to date. Please 
mark, learn and inwardly digest Vogel's recent paper in the 
Astron. Nach. on his photographic determination, by means of 
his new spectroscope, of stellar motions in the line of sight. 
Contrast, for example, his results for the motion of Capella 
with those at Greenwich. See how perfectly the results are 
brought into perfect accord when corrected for the motion of 
the Earth. One almost looks for the time when the velocity 
of the Earth's motion (i. e. the r parallax) may be deter- 
mined in this way. I think it is the most important advance 
in practical astronomy made at one step for many a long day. 
His results in accuracy are to those of Greenwich as the 
accuracy of Bradley to that of Ptolemy. 

My wifie has been very well indeed since return from French 
Hoek till a couple of days ago when pain returned. 

CAPE OF GOOD HOPE, September u, 1889. 

MY DEAR Miss CLERKE, I am quite ashamed of myself but 
Auwers and Victoria together have been too much for me 


all my time has been so closely occupied. But we have got 
a very splendid set of observations over 3100 pointings on 51 
evenings and 48 mornings and these alone without the work 
of any other observatory would give not a bad value of the 
r parallax. But combined with the Yale, Leipzig, Got- 
tingen and Bamberg (?) observations should make a tremen- 
dously exact determination. Hartwig of Bamberg I hear 
was married just a week or two before the Victoria observa- 
tions began and I have not heard from him yet whether he 
has made any observations of Victoria or not but I fear not. 
Elkin and Hall have of course done a lot of work and their 
reports are favourable up to the date they go. Leipzig and 
Gottingen, valuable but less numerous than Yale. 

By next mail without fail your chapters will return to you. 

My dear Friend Auwers is off he left us last week my 
wife was in tears at his going Auwers and I had a little 
holiday together. 


My wife is so well and has so been for the last four months. 
I am in despair about computers all going off to the gold 
fields I fear Sawerthal will go too. 


Ever y r Sincere friend, DAVID GILL. 

CAPE OF GOOD HOPE, September 18, 1889. 

MY DEAR Miss CLERKE, At last I send off the Chaps. 
XVIII and XIX, and the more I read them the more I like 
them. There are only a few points about which I have 
made notes on the margin so few that I am ashamed to have 
kept them so long for so little. 

But Auwers and Victoria kept me very busy, and then we 
took a little holiday together to Ceres, Wellington and Cape 
Point, and this created arrears to be made up and so ... 

Please forgive and let us pass on. 

Holden is attempting too many different things with the 
Lick telescope and after what Vogel has done he should go 
straight into stellar spectra and stellar motion in line of sight 
by photographs. You must dwell on this more in Chap. XIX. 
Contrast the results with the two methods not the mean but 
the individual results and show the enormous advance that 
has been made. 

I heard, probably through the same Oxford channel as 
y r self, of the Huggins difficulties, and I was delighted to hear 
that steps were being taken to secure a Queen's pension no 
one ever better deserved it. 


Yes, Pickering is the fellow to pick up money and he uses 
it well when he gets it. 

I deplore the tone of the Observatory article on the sub- 
ject. . . . His star pictures will be much more complete and 
convenient (for they will contain 25 square degrees each) 
than those of the Congress which contain only 4 square 
degrees but his work will be far less accurate and incom- 
parably inferior in importance to the Catalogue. The two 
works are both desirable and should both be carried out. 

As I said before you have tumbled into a common error 
about Argelander's Durchmusterung. It is only exact, and 
only pretends to be exact to 9 th Mag. Anything below 9*2 or 
9-3 was put down as 9-10 and printed 9-5, but really a vast 
number of 10 mag. stars were thus catalogued. 

I sent you a report of a lecture which I gave the other day 
in Cape Town a hash of the R 1 Institution lecture and the 
nebular hypothesis but the people seemed delighted with 
it and in articles about it they said the Queen of Sheba 
(that's you) had come from the North (instead of the South) 
to hear the wisdom of Solomon (that's me !) and much other 
Editorial froth. 

Did I tell you that Victoria was a great success. Auwers 
and I got 3100 pointings on the planet. Sappho begins 
to-night and I have to do both the evening and the morning 
observ ns for Mr. Finlay is engaged in exchanging signals with 
Captain Pullen every night who is travelling along the W. 
coast with a gunboat and determining the longitudes at all 
points where the cable lands. 


My little wife is so well. She liked Auwers as much as I 
do. He is such a splendid fellow so staunch and true 
so absolutely reliable. Her absolutely good health during 
Auwers' stay dispelled the only cloud that ever happens in 
our home life anxiety and so we had a very good time. 

She joins me in all kind messages to you and yours. 

Ever Sincerely Y rs , DAVID GILL. 

A letter dated February 26, 1890, from the Cape of Good 
Hope is very interesting, but rather too controversial for 
these pages. Regarding the Astrographic Catalogue he is glad 
to be able to say : "I think the Catalogue question begins 
to settle itself." He reviews the course that had been fol- 
lowed by the Astronomer Royal's chief assistant, regretting it 
for his sake, crediting him with a right spirit, and attributing 
his hostility to that great undertaking to the unfortunate 
influence upon him of men he is associated with. 


Regarding Mr. Christie's advice to the Admiralty not to 
pay for the work of comparing the heliometer observations of 
minor planets in the northern hemisphere with those at the 
Cape, for determining finally the value of the solar parallax 
one of the two objects for which the Admiralty had installed 
the heliometer at the Cape Gill speaks in pretty strong 
terms, saying : "I need hardly tell you that I do not intend 
to accept such a refusal." 

A letter dated May 6, 1890, after the death of Miss Clerke's 
mother, deals with personal matters concerning which his 
advice was asked. 

CAPE OF GOOD HOPE, 1890, July 8. 

MY DEAR FRIEND, I will write to you definitely about 
/? Orionis next week, but the fact seems to be this that 
ft Orionis and one of the comparison stars are at a very great 
distance beyond the other comparison star. . . . 

I am very proud about my Berlin Acad. 

The only English Members are Prof. Cay ley, E. Frankland, 
Sir J. Hooker, Huxley, Salmon (Dublin), Sylvester, Sir W. 
Thomson, Sir G. G. Stokes, Prof. Williamson (For. Sec. R.S.), 
and Airy and Sir R. Owen who are Foreign Members, and 
Earl Crawford Hon. Mem. 

The list of astronomers in the Acad. is Auwers, Airy, 
Cayley, Gould, Krueger, Newcomb, Schiaparelli, Schonfeld, 
Struve, Winnecke. Y" sincerely, DAVID GILL. 

The letters to Miss Clerke were for the first time interrupted 
by the visit to England in 1890. Those of later date can be 
quoted here only in parts. Yet, if there were space, they 
would be equally valuable, if the object of this book were 
only to tell of the assistance he gave to others, the work of 
the Cape Observatory, the opposition encountered, the suc- 
cesses gained, the approval of those whose opinion he valued, 
and the honours showered upon him by learned societies in 
all the great countries of the world. 

A letter dated July 22, 1894, discloses an intrigue against 
him worked through the Treasury, and detected by the 
Admiralty. Dr. Gill tells Miss Clerke all this with full 
details, because "it is an item in the History of Astronomy." 
It is an example, he says, of what he has had to encounter 
for twelve years. 


1889 [1899 ?]. Feb. 13. We are all rejoicing in the award 
of the R.A.S. Medal to Mr. M'Clean, and the whole staff 
assembled on Friday in the Dining Room and drank his 
health with all the honours cheering till the old place shook 
again. . . . Rhodes has promised me that ... he will place 
at my disposal the fund necessary to carry the arc of meridian 
to Lake Tanganyika. I devoutly hope all will go well if so 
I may yet live to see that arc carried to Cairo perhaps even 
connected with Struve's arc to the North Cape. 

1902. I have been away in the Transvaal on a visit to 
Lord Milner at Johannesberg. I need hardly tell you I 
enjoyed it for there is no man whose society I enjoy more 
tho' he is such an overwrought man that one can only get 
scraps of it. He is at work by 7 o'clock. A hasty breakfast 
and work on to 1.30 in his office at Sunnyside. At 2.30 he 
starts for his walk (ij miles for exercise) to Johannesberg 
whence he seldom returns till 7.30 and at 10.30 he usually 
goes to work again till the small hours of the morning. . . . 
The labour question is very pressing they have not half the 
native labour they require. Rents are exorbitant. " You see 
that place over the bootshop that's my office, and I pay a rent 
for which I might hire Buckingham Palace," said Lord Milner. 

1903. Feb. 18. [Extolling her new book, Problems in 
Astrophysics.'] So happy, so strong and so useful a book. . . . 
I do not believe that there is a man living who knew before- 
hand all the facts that you have brought together, and brought 
together so well in their proper places. 

1903. December 2. Many thanks for your kind con- 
gratulations on the Royal Medal Award. 

We were at Caledon at the time M r Franklin-Adams and 
I were chatting after lunch. Bella had gone to her room 
but presently returned with a flushed excited face and eyes 
beaming with joy " Guess what I have got here/' showing 
a telegram. Of course we could not guess, so then she read 
the cable message which had been received at the Observatory 
and forwarded by Mr. Hough. It conveyed congratulations on 
the Medal by Huggins, Wharton, Turner, MClean and Christie. 
I remember" nothing that has given her greater pleasure. 

I am busy erecting the new sidereal clock. It is, or I 
believe will be, the most important step in instrumental Astro- 
nomy. 1 It has cost first and last about 1000, and I expect 

1 [In support of this belief, see p. 244, foot-note.] 


the phials of the Admiralty wrath poured upon me for this 
excess of estimated expenditure. 

Still, as I hope for nearly perfect results I think I shall be 
able to face the storm. It took 24 mules to drag the wagons 
conveying its various parts from the Docks to the Observatory 
so it is a more elaborate affair than the ordinary observatory 
clock. It has a whole house to itself. 

1904. November 16. [This letter tells of his deep grief on 
the death of M r Frank M c Clean.] I have also lost another 
very dear friend M r John F. White of Aberdeen. ... He 
was one of the sweetest and best of men, and most highly 
cultured. . . . Now his gentle spirit is at rest. 

Miss Clerke died in 1907, after Gill's final departure from 
the Cape. 

The very great esteem in which Sir David Gill held Miss 
Agnes Clerke was shared by many, among others by his 
fellow-worker Newcomb. Writing to Gill from Washington 
March 5, 1907, he says 

I was much grieved to hear of Miss Clerke's death following 
so closely on that of her sister. In past years one of the 
pleasantest features of my visits to London was my warm 
and almost affectionate reception by my lady friends at 
67 Redcliffe Square ; but it was only recently that I came to 
know how interesting was the scholarship of the two Misses 
Clerke. Now they have gone, leaving the brother alone so 
far as I know. If you meet him I wish you would tell him of 
my sentiments. 


In the whole history of astronomy, far more than of the 
experimental sciences, the men who secure the facts and those 
who deduce the resulting theory have been different men. 
The theorist is absolutely dependent upon the observer for 
his data; and the observer who desires to use his power in 
the best way must consider the needs of the mathematical 

So Ptolemy was dependent upon Hipparchus, Kepler upon 
Tycho Brahe, Newton upon Flamsteed, and Newcomb upon 
Gill. The last of these could obtain, from the great observa- 
tories, data computed with the finest superintendence from 
routine observations made by paid assistants. But when he 
wanted the utmost accuracy obtainable for his lunar and 


planetary calculations he relied largely upon Gill. The dis- 
tance of the sun, the mass of the moon and Jupiter, the con- 
stant of aberration, the '"accurate positions of the moon by 
occult ation and of major planets by heliometer, and, still 
more difficult, of the sun, were some of the data discussed in 
correspondence, and secured by Gill for Newcomb to use in 
his tables. 

Sir Isaac Newton would have done more for astronomy had 
he and Flamsteed (the Astronomer Royal), who were ever in 
antagonism, been united by the affectionate esteem which 
prevailed between Newcomb and Gill. The gaiety of Gill's 
disposition is continually shown in his correspondence with 
real astronomers, whose greatest happiness lies in loving 
their science, and in making supreme efforts to do their duty 
by it. Unflinching opponents of humbug like Simon New- 
comb were the men to whom Gill was most ready to show his 
inner self, in work and in play. The following extracts from 
letters to Newcomb could be written only between friends 
who each thoroughly knew and appreciated the other's mind. 

1889. May 6. ... At this moment I believe Auwers is 
somewhere between the Bay of Biscay and Madeira, on his 
way to the Cape. I wish that you were with him what a 
rare time we should have together. . . . When they [the 
Sappho observations] are over I shall have surely earned my 
proposed holiday in 1890. There is the definitive meeting 
of the permanent committee of the Astrographic Congress 
which I must attend but I also want some fun for I have 
been close at work for 10 years now. According to this we 
are both intent on kicking our heels and having a roll on the 
grass about the same time. 

1889. 3 July. I am happy to tell you that on the morn- 
ing of 28th June we had glorious weather and Auwers and I 
measured y r Eclipse for you, I hope more completely than 
ever an eclipse has been measured before. . . . 

Auwers is a charming guest a man I have known well and 
esteemed among my best friends since I came to know him in 
1873. But the more I see him the more I know and love him 
and am only beginning to realize what a truly splendid fellow 
he is. I would that you were here. 

1889. October 7. ... My good friend Auwers is gone, and 
I am left alone with Sappho. . . . And so the fair Barbarian l 
1 Professor Newcomb's daughter. See p. 149. 


is a mother and all goes well God bless her. . . . Auwers 
is a devoted admirer of the F. B. so I long even more than 
formerly to meet her face to face. 

1890. Jan. 21. [After criticizing Newcomb's published 
judgment, and stating his own, about Transits of Venus and 
Solar Parallax.] Now my good friend there I am do you 
go for me You have my thesis or at least I have I think 
sufficiently attacked yours to set the ball a rolling. 

Let's first shake hands before we box 
Then give each other friendly knocks 
With all the love and kindness of a brother. 

1891. Jan. 14. MY DEAR NEWCOMB, First of all my 
most warm and sincere congratulations on the honour which 
our Royal Society has done itself, by conferring on you the 
highest scientific distinction which it is in the power of 
scientific England to bestow. The Copley Medal is fortun- 
ately one of those distinctions which have been preserved 
worthy and pure by an honourable body of competent judg- 
ment, and desirous to honour only those who are worthy of 
honour. It is a prize which one may hand down to one's 
children with pardonable pride an heirloom that they will 
cherish reverently if they are worthy children of their worthy 

1892. May 14. ... Did I tell you, they asked me to go 
to Cambridge but I felt that my proper work is here. . . . 
You are a heavy task master however for I am toiling away 
observing every evening and early morning to try to get you 
a reliable value of the Aberration Constant. 

1894. May 30. ... I have, I think, only one enemy in 
the world ; but he has been giving me a lot of trouble. Having 
failed to make more mischief at the Admiralty, he got at the 
Treasury. . . . You can therefore imagine what a boon your 
letter acknowledging the Victoria and Sappho work was. I 
sent a copy to the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty who 
I think will be glad to have it as a weapon to use in the fight 
with the Treasury. 



1894, May 23. 

SIR, In my letter of 1894, March 21, I had the honour to 
report the value of the Solar Parallax and of the Mass of the 
Moon (resulting from the observations of Victoria and Sappho) 
for use in the Nautical Almanac. 


At the same time I forwarded these results, with further 
details, to Professor Newcomb, and I have now the honour 
to transmit a copy of his^eply in the hope that my Lords 
Commissioners of the Admiralty may be pleased to know the 
estimation in which these results are held by the chief living 
authority on such subjects. In connection with this latter 
remark I should perhaps explain that Prof. Simon Newcomb 
is now bringing to completion the work on which, with the 
aid of a large staff of able mathematicians, he has been en- 
gaged for the past 15 years. That work embraces a complete 
theory of the motions of the members of the Solar System, 
a re-discussion of all the existing observations of these bodies, 
and new tables of their motions. 

Thus Newcomb's Tables will supersede all others in point 
of accuracy and must be adopted for use during the next 
50 years at least, in our own Nautical Almanac as well as in 
all other Nautical Ephemerides. 

My Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty will thus be 
in a position to estimate the value of the service performed at 
the Cape Observatory in a matter so intimately connected 
with the purposes for which the Observatories at Greenwich 
and the Cape were founded and are maintained, 

I am, etc., DAVID GILL. 

Further papers on the same subject are forwarded to the 


GEORGETOWN HEIGHTS, D.C., April 23, 1894. 

MY DEAR DR. GILL, I have received the definitive results 
for the solar parallax, as derived from the observations of 
Victoria and Sappho, enclosed in your letter of Mar. 2ist. 

I must congratulate you on the unequalled precision reached 
by these observations. That the system which you have 
devised may be applied to determining the positions of the 
planets with a precision heretofore unthought of, has recently 
been pointed out in a number of the Astronomical Journal 
which I am glad to know you have seen. 

The observations which can be used in forming the new 
tables of the four inner planets being now closed up, I beg 
leave to express my personal and official appreciation of the 
observations and results which the Cape Observatory has 
contributed to the work in question. I find that out of 1,036 
observations of Mercury, made during the years 1884 to 1892, 
inclusive, no less than 532, or a little more than one-half, were 
made at the Cape of Good Hope. Of course, such a result 
was possible only through your fine climate and favourable 


geographical situation; but these circumstances would not 
have sufficed without the ardor of the astronomer. In my 
last annual report I expressed my official indebtedness to 
you, and I hope that in my next one the substantial com- 
pletion of the work on which I have been officially engaged 
for more than fifteen years will afford an occasion for a more 
complete statement of the indebtedness of the American 
Nautical Almanac Office to Her Majesty's observer at the 
Cape, for observations and results of the greatest value, 
Yours very sincerely, SIMON NEWCOMB. 


ADMIRALTY, S.W., June 30, 1894. 

SIR, In acknowledging the receipt of your letter of 23 rd 
of May I am commanded by My Lords Commissioners of the 
Admiralty to convey to you an expression of their satisfaction 
at the valuable results of your labours which have been of 
much use in compiling the Nautical Almanac and have 
tended greatly to the advancement of gravitational astronomy. 

I am, sir, your obed* servant, EVAN MACGREGOR. 

1894. July 17. I am delighted to hear that action is being 
taken to put a real astronomer at the head of the new Naval 
Observatory at Washington a man responsible for the work 
of the Establishment. 

The thing that has bothered me is why, when they have got 
a man like you in America, they don't put you at the head of 
its astronomy. The absolute power put in the hands of a 
Naval Officer as Superintendent is quite ridiculous. 

I thought he was a pleasant sort of gentleman who signed 
receipts for books and many papers and so on who smoked 
cigarettes with visitors to the Observatory and otherwise 
did the ornamental duties of the office, and wore a uniform 
occasionally as a figure head. But as the only adviser that 
is absurd indeed ! There is only one way to put matters 
straight and that is to put the Astronomers in command of 
the American fleet. I think you and I would make quite as 
good a job of the command of a fleet as the Admirals would 
of the real command of an observatory perhaps better. I 
shall be anxious to hear the result. 

Both Gill's work and Newcomb's came in for closely 
reasoned arguments on both sides, each anxious only to have 
the point at issue thoroughly threshed out, and the truth 
established. They certainly " gave each other friendly 
knocks with all the love and kindness of a brother." The 


very phraseology indicates this spirit, as when Gill answers 

a letter thus v 

* ' ' /*' 

1895. Dec. 17. ... But there is a still more curious fact, 
viz. that there is a celebrated and phenomenally active 
astronomer in America [Newcomb], who having put all the 
Solar System in order is now engaged in drilling the stars 
and bringing all our practical work into a systematic whole. 

But this good gentleman is so busy that it is quite im- 
possible for him to find time to read the introductions to works 
which he utilizes but he finds time to find out faults in them, 
and to make surprising discoveries all of which are contained 
in the introductions to the works in question. 

I believe you know this gentleman, and I would ask you to 
do what I have not the courage to do, to play the part of the 
candid friend and put him right and do impress on him how 
desirable it is to read the introductions. 

The fact is that Newcomb had committed the blunder of 
assuming that Gill's catalogue for epoch 1885-0 included 
corrections for proper motion, though the introduction dis- 
tinctly states the contrary. Thus he found a difference 
between Gill's Declination of Arcturus (mean epoch of observa- 
tion 1882*12) and Boss' amounting to 3" due, of course, to 
proper motion. 

1895. Dec. 31. MY DEAR NEWCOMB, Y r letters are never 
a nuisance, always a delight. A Happy New Year to you and 
many of them (new years and letters too). 

Gill's correspondence with Newcomb from 1895 onwards 
is mostly technical, relating to Newcomb's fundamental 

1897. Dec. 26. MY DEAR NEWCOMB, The matter of our 
correspondence seems to have fallen into the condition of 
affairs so graphically described by the Governor of North 
Carolina in his opening remarks to the Governor of South 
Carolina. I would hope the matter is going to right itself. 
We have both been abnormally busy. . . . 

I am thankful to tell you that Mrs. Gill is much better 
this is her birthday, and a very happy one it has been. 

She joins me in all good wishes of the season to you and 
yrs. May the new year be a happy one for you, and may 
your great work prosper in it. . . . 

P.S. Y r letter of Nov. 29 . . . just come in as mail goes. . . . 
So glad to see y r writing again. 


1898. March 24. MY DEAR NEWCOMB, I also am at a 
loss to understand the howl of your compatriots against 
the Paris Conference resolutions A , with B and C yelping 
behind like poodle dogs in the rear of the pack. The one 
point about which there is a show of reason is the Aberration 
constant. . . . 

I didn't expect many people to go to the bottom of the 
[solar] parallax volumes but of the few I did think you 
would be one. I wish you could find time to devote two or 
three evenings to them, and then write me as sharp a criticism 
of them as you can. 

The new McClean telescope sailed a week ago from Liver- 
pool. We are off to-morrow to the hills for 10 days or so, 
returning in time to meet the new baby on its arrival. 

1898. May 3. The mail just arrived brings a splendid- 
looking document to certify that I have been elected an 
hon y member of the New York Academy of Sciences. . . . 
It offers another inducement for me to visit America were 
it possible to find one to mention beside y r long and often 
repeated invitations. 

If I can, I must and will come to America in 1900 not for 
the eclipse so much as to see you all. 

1898. June 15. I have just received a letter from Professor 
Agassiz informing me of my election as a Foreign Member of 
the National Academy of Sciences, Washington. ... I do 
not conceal from myself the fact that your partiality has had 
more to do with this election than any work that I have 
done. ... I hope you will mention to those astronomers 
who are Members of the Academy how deeply I feel this mark 
of their esteem, friendship and good will. 

1898. Sept. 19. ... I have some young men now who 
are doing active Heliometer work. My eyes are not so good 
as they used to be. . . . I don't think I told you about it 
[his new Transit Circle]. It is somewhat a new departure. 
The whole stand is iron so are the cube, tubes, etc. the 
micrometer boxes are cast iron, the slides and screws steel. 

The pillars are hollow cast iron and filled with water to 
ensure layers of equal temperature. They are covered with 
thick non-conducting material and covered outside with 
polished copper. 

The circles are solid cast iron discs, divisions on iridio- 
platinum and are surrounded with double screens of copper 
with air-space. These covers attached to the pier. The 
turned cast iron tubes are also surrounded with double copper 
shields with air spaces [these shields attached only to the 


cube], to ensure equal distribution of temperature. [Sketches 
show how the Observatory rolls back in halves, leaving a 
6 ft. opening on" the meridian.] 

The instrument is, of course, reversible, and has meridian 
marks N and S in the focus of lenses of 300 ft. focal length. 

1899. Jan. 28. We had the great pleasure of seeing Prof. 
Agassiz here the other day at lunch. .'' . . So glad you are 
pleased with the C.P.D. Kapteyn is a grand fellow and a 
grand worker. 

1899. April 13. Next week I am going up to Rhodesia 
for a month to start the reconnaissance and beaconing, along 
the 30th meridian. . . . McClean is quite right about oxygen 
in the spectra of ft Crucis, (3 Centauri, ft Can. Maj. and we 
find it in e Orionis. We are getting fine results for motion 
in line of sight. 

1899. August 23. It would gratify me to see a total eclipse 
before I die and I should enjoy it but I don't think I sh d 
work at it. . . . I am so glad you are going to see Kapteyn. 
Unless I am very much mistaken you will find him a man after 
your own heart. He is not only a very accomplished man of 
high aims and indomitable pluck, but he has a very fine 
character, and is a most sterling good fellow. . . . 

My dear wife has been ill again. Mrs. Cunliffe [the late 
Lord Herschell's sister] who had been like a mother and 
sister to her for 20 years who nursed her during a great part 
of our last visit to England and who for 20 years, when she 
was not with us, never missed a mail in writing died suddenly 
at Oxford. 

You will find Kapteyn very happy in the completion of 
the Durchmusterung. I am quite ashamed to find my name 
on the title page of a work with his, for my share in it is so 
small compared with his. ... I do not believe that ever 
was so big a piece of work published with so few errors. 

1900. Jan. 18. The war keeps us in a terrible state of 
nerve-tension, so that it requires a great effort to keep one's 
mind fixed on ordinary work. Like every third man one 
meets I am an amateur General can't help it. ... We have 
a cavalry and horse artillery camp just under the Observatory 
windows, and many an old friend I have seen there on the way 
to the front some of whom I shall, alas, never see again. 

1900. May 31. London. Both medals the W T atson and 
the Bruce have reached me and have apparently so im- 
pressed the Admiralty that on the Queen's Birthday I was 
gazetted K.C.B. . . . You see what frightful consequences 
have followed your over generous appreciation of my work ! 


1901. Jan. 18. McClean remarks that wherever you find 
a bright Helium-spectrum star, you get a large quantity of the 
same type in the neighbourhood. ... All the brighter stars 
of Orion seem to be type I. stars except a and all included 
in one great nebula. . . . For wholesale parallax work 
photography is the thing but for bright stars and these small 
parallaxes only the Heliometer is suitable. . . . 

Our new Transit Circle will be here in a few days. [The 
letter goes on to describe his underground meridian mark 

1901, March 29. NEWCOMB to GILL. ... At all events 
it seems that you have not yet abandoned telescopes for 

I hope Roberts [Dr. Roberts of Lovedale, not Lord Roberts] 
is equally fortunate. Looking up his location on the map I 
see that it falls very near the region of a recent raid and I 
wonder whether his splendid work on variable stars is going 
to be interfered with. ... I shall look with the greatest 
interest for the trial of your new circle. 

1901. July 30. I do not know what to attribute 
Christie's action to .... I should be greatly obliged if you 
would carefully consider the whole matter and give me your 
opinion. ... I am glad to hear you think so well of the 
Jupiter work. [This letter is accompanied by copy of his 
unanswerable criticism (for the Admiralty) of Mr. Christie's 
objections to the meridian marks proposed for the Cape 
Observatory. He summarizes some conclusions in his report 
in these words : "I further venture to express my belief 
that, in consequence of the depth below the surface of the 
ground and the age, thickness, extent and uniformity of the 
bed-rock, the proposed system of meridian marks will, if 
carried out, prove to be the most stable of any that has 
yet been erected at any Observatory in the world." Gill's 
arguments fortunately prevailed at the Admiralty, and his 
belief, as stated above, has been entirely corroborated by the 

1902. July 26. ... I don't know if you share my tastes 
for military strategy and tactics to me the whole thing was 
intensely interesting but a shocking instance of the entire 
lack of military genius on part of our Generals and a grand 
instance of pluck on part of Tommy Atkins. 

1904. Jan. 22. ... I think you would be very much 
interested, if you were here just now, to see the new Sidereal 


Clock, which I have been erecting and experimenting with. . . . 
We sail for England on the gth March. 

1905. March 24. .' . . No small part of my time is occupied 
with the approaching visit of the British Association to South 

I do wish you could come here. . 

1905. May 26. I cannot tell you how much I regret that 
you cannot come. 

1906. March 26. By last mail I sent in my application to 
the Admiralty for leave to retire from my present post in 
October next. . . . My doctor advises me not to spend 
another summer at the Cape. 

1907. March 19. London. . . . Miss Clerke as a woman, 
a friend and a historian and original thinker in matters 
astronomical, has been a terrible loss. We loved her dearly. 
Her poor brother is left alone, so terribly alone. His case 
is a most pathetic one. 

1908. Feb. 12. I have got the arc of meridian started at 
the northern end of Lake Tanganyika . . . and Lyons is 
pushing it southwards from Alexandria. So I may yet live 
to see it through. 

1909. Jan. 13. My wife and I are very much concerned to 
hear that you have to undergo an operation. 


MY DEAR NEWCOMB, I have been a very bad correspondent 
of late. I heard you had been very ill, and I did not know 
if I might bother you with letters. 

You have doubtless heard that the Fair Barbarian is a 
reality we have actually got a glimpse of her just enough 
to assure me that she is a reality for luck has always been 
against our meeting. 

The moment I got to Paris, or rather the first thing I did 
on the morning after our arrival there the previous night, 
was to go to the Rue de Fosses St. -Jacques, in search of 
Mrs. McGee, to find that the bird had flown to Switzerland, 
leaving behind to represent her a charming daughter and a 
little son who is a minor edition of Simon Newcomb. I fancy 
just exactly like what you were at his age. All this took 
place on the 23rd March and then my time was much filled 
up with " Weights and Measures." We left Paris on the ist 
April and spent a fortnight at Portofino (about 25 miles 
southward along the coast from Genoa) where we had a 


perfect time as guests of our old friend, the Dow : Lady Car- 
narvon (her husband was Colonial Sec? in Lord Derby's 
Gov* and he was long Pres. of the Society of Antiquaries). 

I ran up to Rome for two days to see St. Peters at Easter 
and get a glimpse of the Eternal City. 

We returned, after a day in Genoa, to Paris, on the morning 
of the I7th April and had a very busy and interesting week 
there over the Carte du del business chiefly in connection 
with the Catalogue. 

I think you will be interested to read the account of the 
meeting which I wrote for Nature (unsigned). 

We got another peep at Miss McGee at lunch one day 
and at the Observatory reception but still no F.B. and 
indeed, we only just got a flying peep at her on her way 
passing through London, which finally convinced me of her 
objective existence though spiritually we are old friends. 
We had a great talk about you, and much do I wish the 
accounts of y r health had been better. 

We both love you well, that is certain and there were a 
thousand things we might have talked about if we had more 
time as it was I think we didn't lose much of the short time 
at our disposal. 

I have got the great itinerary you prepared for me but I 
think I must leave Canada out, and just arrange to leave my 
wife quietly somewhere in the East whilst I run to Lick and 
Mount Wilson. My wife has no fears as to a sea trip but 
she is a very bad traveller by railway a journey of 200 or 
300 miles knocks her up for days. So I have to be very 
careful about her. 

She joins me in loving remembrances to you and yours. 
Ever thine, DAVID GILL. 

Professor Simon Newcomb died in July 1909. 


The first letter written by Gill to, and preserved by, 
Professor Kapteyn. 


1884, September 27. 

MY DEAR SIR, Your kind letter of the 3Oth April has 
remained thus long unanswered because of my absence in 
England. . . . Absorbing work in England prevented me till 
a few days ago from reading your paper in Copernicus.* 

1 Copernicus, vol. iii, pp. 147-182. 


I shall certainly give your method of determining a funda- 
mental latitude a good trial. . . . [The letter proceeds to 
extol his great 3-foot theodolite, just acquired; also his 
delicate precautions, in measuring the maximum elongation 
in azimuth of a star, by which he hopes to eliminate systematic 

1885. January 18. [In this letter minute details are given 
for applying Kapteyn's method as so to avoid systematic 
error. There are many letters in 1885 on this subject.] . . . 
But however perfect an instrument may be (and it is the 
astronomer's business to see that it is perfect) it is the astro- 
nomer's further business to look upon it with complete and 
utter mistrust. 

The above letters contain evidence how the devoted friend- 
ship between these two astronomers arose out of mutual 
appreciation of the qualities required for the attainment of 
the most refined practical results. Then came the incidents 
connected with the C.P.D. related in the narrative part of 
this book. Then hundreds of letters follow in regard to their 
common work, full of technical matter. A very few extracts 
alone can be given here to show the growth of feeling, on the 
part of each, from scientific appreciation to affectionate devo- 
tion. All these letters are from the Cape, unless otherwise 

1886. Jan. 9. MY DEAR SIR, Such a letter as yours of 
Dec r 16 requires an immediate answer I refer of course to 
its concluding portion in which you offer some years of your 
life to co-operation with me in cataloguing the photographic 
Durchmusterung of the Southern Heavens. 

It is not easy to tell you what I feel at receiving such a 
proposal. I recognize in it the true brotherhood of science 
and in you a true brother. [The letter, 13 quarto pages, 
goes on to discuss plans of working. The same subject fills 
most of the correspondence with Professor Kapteyn for many 

1886. Jan. 22. MY DEAR SIR, Your delightful letter of 
the 23rd Dec r makes full amends for the disappointment I 
felt at not receiving your promised letter by last mail. . . . 

I wish I knew you personally I do know you, I think, 
pretty well but I wish you would send me your photograph 
I send you mine. 

[On the i6th June, 1886, he encloses copy of a valuable 


letter he wrote to Professor Stokes about the opposition in a 
certain quarter to support of the C.P.D. by funds administered 
by the Royal Society.] 

216 UNION STREET, ABERDEEN, March 29, 1887. 

MY DEAR KAPTEYN, ... I feel quite ashamed at being so 
long in answering the very satisfactory and delightful letter 
which I received from you at Paris. I think I am sufficient 
judge of character to find out what manner of man you were 
during the happy days that we spent together. 

Still it is very pleasant to be assured in plain English, and 
in the manly terms which you employ, y r fixed resolution to 
stick to the work you have undertaken, through thick and 
thin and that, having put your hand to the plough, no con- 
sideration will move you from the work you have begun 
arid no temptation can cause you to turn back from it. 

If you enjoyed my visit no less I assure you, did I enjoy 
mine. Your happy family life, our common interests and the, 
to me, very interesting chats we had together, make a very 
bright spot in my visit to Europe. 

At this date there are many letters recounting the miserable 
spirit of attacks against the C.P.D. , the pecuniary support 
offered by the Berlin Academy to the C.P.D., the indignation 
expressed to the Greenwich Board of Visitors by Adams, the 
support of the C.P.D. by members of the Paris Congress, the 
letter from Auwers on the astronomical necessity of the C.P.D., 
printed, circulated and supported by Stokes, and the final 
determination of Dr. and Mrs. Gill to introduce domestic 
economies at the Cape (among others, Mrs. Gill giving up her 
carriage), so that they might defray the cost at their own 

A great deal of correspondence passed between these two 
about the Astrographic Chart and Catalogue. Naturally, 
their unique experience in photographing and measuring the 
plates for a catalogue, possessed by no other astronomer, 
led the permanent committee to rely upon their advice on 
many points. The responsibility thus thrown mainly upon 
Gill led to preparatory discussions by correspondence which 
would occupy too much space to insert here. It is astonishing 
how much designing and inventing resulted. 

1890. Sept. 29. MY DEAR KAPTEYN, You already have 
my congratulations about the parallactic micrometer. So I 


need say no more about the matter except that you are not 
quite so mad with delight as I should have been. 
' . ** 

1891. June 6. London. Have you read Pickering's paper 
in No. 3025 of the Ast. Nach. ? There you will find that the 
brighter stars of the Milky Way are all stars of the Sirius 
type, i. e. very white stars, very rich in 'photographic rays, 
and therefore the photographic diameters in our Durch- 
musterung plates show that this is also true for the fainter 
stars that, in fact, the stars in the Milky Way are chemi- 
cally different or rather in an earlier stage of stellar evolu- 
tion than the stars in the rest of the sky. It is a supremely 
interesting fact worthy of the fullest discussion. 

1892. March 29. The Victoria and Sappho reductions 
which are immensely complex and laborious occupy most of 
the time, and I have been working at them early and late, for 
I am most desirous to reach the result by the end of this year, 
in order that Newcomb may include the result in his new 
discussion of Astronomical constants. 

1892. July 6. The mail has just arrived bringing your 
welcome letter with the jubilant " finished." There remains 
only now time before this letter must be posted to say how 
delighted I am to hear the good news and how sincerely I 
congratulate you. I, too, have just finished a long job 
the discussion of the Triangulation of the Victoria comparison 

1893. Nov. 20. The defects of the parallactic instrument 
which you describe are precisely those which I w d have antici- 
pated viz. the effect of the slow motion in R.A. in changing 
the Declination. It was precisely this error in nearly all 
Equatoreals which made the Victoria and Sappho observations 
in 1882 (Galle's method) abortive. 

1894. Sept. ii. What a pleasure your kind, manly and 
sympathetic letter was. . . . 

I am not going just now to write you about all the troubles 
I have had in the past. It is sufficient to say that a deliberate 
attempt was made to hand over the Observatory to the Cape 
Gov* which would have been equivalent to its extinction 
and the appointment of a successor to George Maclear (one of 
my assistants who had retired) was refused in consequence 
of statements made to the Treasury that I had been neglecting 
my proper duties and been observing minor planets and other 
pursuits on my own account. Fortunately, Newcomb wrote 
me a letter acknowledging in strong terms the value of the 
Cape work to the American Ephemeris which gave the lie 


direct to my false accusers, and ended in my getting a warm 
official letter of thanks from the Admiralty for these very 

. . . and last mail brought me a letter which has fairly 
taken away my breath. 

Mr. Frank McClean writes to say that he is desirous of 
presenting a large telescope to the Cape Observatory, for 
astro-photo, and spectroscopic work. . . . 

I can hardly doubt that the Admiralty will accept such a 
splendid offer in the same spirit in which it has been made. 

1895. April 9. I have no words to express my delight and 
satisfaction in your work, nor rny sense of the value of the 
great service you have rendered to astronomy by this work. 
... It is a great satisfaction to me to think on no less 
authority than that of your dear wife that the Durch- 
musterung has not been over much work for you. I mean 
that you are physically and mentally better and not worse for 
your labours. . . . Above all, I rejoice in the true friend I 
have found in you may that friendship ever grow with our 

1898. Feb. 23. I am very glad that you are pleased with 
the Cape Annals, Vols. VI and VII. [Solar Parallax.] I do 
think you have described its leading feature viz. the reality 
or at least the earnest endeavour to seek out the reality 
of the results, and the reality of the probable errors, and to 
hunt out all sources of systematic error. That has been my 
main endeavour, and I am very pleased that you think I 
have succeeded. 

1899. April 6. A thousand heartiest congratulations on 
the completion of the Durchmusterung Catalogue. What 
a load off your weary shoulders ! How splendidly you have 
redeemed the promise you made me in 1884, and how thor- 
oughly you have done your great work ! It will ever remain 
a standing memorial of y r devotion to Science, y r earnestness 
of purpose and y r wonderful working capacity. . . . 

De Sitter is going on with the parallax of the big proper 
motion star and his photometer work, and making good pro- 
gress with the reduction of the Jupiter Satellite Heliometer 
observations. He seems very happy in his married life, and 
his wife acts as clerk to him in his observing. 

1902. Jan. 29. I am so glad to find that the grant of the 
medal [Gold Medal, R.A.S.] has been duly confirmed and 
that it gives you such satisfaction. 

You are quite right when you say that the most valuable 
part of these recognitions is the weight which they give to 


one's recommendations and the leverage they give in procuring 
additional funds for research. 

1905. October 18. . . . I^ave a letter dated November 6th 
from my old Chief Lord Crawford to say that he was sailing 
that day in his yacht, the Valhalla, for the Cape via Tristan 
d'Acunha and neighbouring islands where, he was to hunt for 
" Birds and Bugs " for the British Museum. He expected to 
arrive in about 2 months so he may drop in any day. I am 
looking forward with immense interest to showing him the 
Cape Observatory. 

After Sir David Gill retired to London his correspondence 
with Professor Kapteyn became even more continuous than 
in the previous twenty years, and their meetings were more 
frequent. The following letters are all dated from De Vere 
Gardens unless otherwise stated. Kapteyn's theories and 
deductions became one of Gill's greatest interests. 

1907. Dec. 10. . . . I have a most troublesome set of 
lectures to deliver at the R 1 Institution. 

I undertook it for the sake of " filthy lucre " and only set 
about the preparation a few days ago. 

1908. April 14. I was so glad to hear some time ago that 
you are going to lecture at the Royal Institution on the 
22nd May, and my wife wrote to Mrs. Kapteyn to say that 
we hoped you would both be able to come to England and 
stay with us. 

1908. April 29. I wrote Dyson asking him to come up 
from Edinburgh when you come, or rather, asking if he could 
manage it. He is delighted. ... He will meet you at dinner 
on the 23rd May. I am writing to Eddington to ask him to 
come also. So we shall have a " star-streaming " dinner. 

1911. July 3. ... We have been all coronation mad here. 
Now it is all happily over a marvel of organization and, 
thank God, free from accidents or misfortunes of any kind. 
On the Thursday I was in Westminster Abbey a wonderful 
experience. On the Friday I watched the procession from 
the Athenaeum, and on Saturday went to the Naval Review 
as an Admiralty guest. I had the good fortune to be with 
Sir Philip Watts (Chief Constructor of the Navy) whilst we 
sailed through the fleet so I got from him the history of all 
the different types of ships and the reasons for the successive 
changes of type. To-day I have been at Cambridge with the 
Geodetic Comparateurs for India and at a meeting with 


Dyson, Newall, Darwin, Larmor, as a joint committee of the 
R 1 Society and R.A.S. to consider the future work and staff 
of the Nautical Almanac Office. 

34 DE VERE GARDENS, KENSINGTON, April 17, 1912. 

MY DEAR KAPTEYN, . . . My time has been a great deal 
taken up in connection with the plans for the telescope and 
dome for Santiago; with an apparatus for determining the 
temperature coefficient and absolute lengths of Geodetic 
bars for the Survey of India and experiments with the com- 
pleted apparatus mounted in London ; final details about the 
mounting of the Johannesburg telescope, etc., etc. 

Besides that I have undertaken the Presidency of the 
Research Defence Society in succession to Lord Cromer who 
has just retired from it. Perhaps you do not know that, in 
this country, there are 13 anti-vivisection societies which are 
doing their best to prevent research involving vivisection, 
and they are supported with very large funds subscribed by 
all the nervous old and young women who keep pet lap dogs 
and think they are more valuable than the lives of human 
beings. Of course, we have all the intelligence of the country 
on our side l and we have to do our best to defend honest 
research against the attacks of the large body of ignorant 
people who have votes, and the politician only cares for votes, 
so that there is always danger of such restriction being imposed 
by law as to render effective research impossible. But I am 
getting into quite a long letter about matters which do not 
directly concern you. 

I am sorry to say that we are no further advanced than 
before with getting optical glass for the Santiago and Johannes- 
burg telescopes; Grubb has ordered duplicate discs from 
Chance. I am going down to Birmingham next week to see 
them and I moved and carried unanimously at the annual 
meeting of the Directors of the National Physical Laboratory 
a motion that the Laboratory should take steps in co-opera- 
tion with the great g]ass manufacturers to institute experi- 
ments for the improvement of optical glass and its production. 

We are expecting Backlund in London early in July about 
his new equatoreal for Nikolaieff and his reflector for Semeis, 
and he will at the same time attend the celebration of the 
25oth Anniversary of the Foundation of the Ro}^al Society 
of London. 

Most of the time I can spare for other things has been given 
to the completion of the History of the Cape Observatory, the 
description of which, as you know, is printed, awaiting 

1 Cf. p. 328. 


the history as its introduction. I had hoped to complete the 
History in 20 pages (each page about equal to 4 of an ordinary 
book) but I have already; got to 100 and am not finished, 
and I do not think there is 'a word of it that will not be interest- 
ing to Astronomers, although, of course, they know something 
about it already. I have been in correspondence with De 
Sitter in connection with the part referring to Jupiter's 
Satellites and I am adding to that chapter a programme of 
the observations necessary for the next ten years to complete 
the data for a thorough determination of the libration and 
other constants of a new theory. . . . 

I shall be greatly interested to hear the outcome of your 
researches on the helium stars. I envy you in the great field 
of research which you have on hand. I find myself, as I 
explained to you, thrown by force of circumstances into quite 
another direction of work, but I hope not a useless one. 

When are you coming to London on your way to 
America? . . . 

Our love to you and yours. Ever thine, DAVID GILL. 

1912. May 12. ... It will be such a joy to see you and 
Mrs. Kapteyn. . . . Yes, indeed we, too, were full of the 
terrible business of the Titanic. We had only one friend on 
board Lady Rothes mercifully she was saved and indeed 
behaved quite heroically. ..." 

Eddington is, I think, the soundest man we have in England 
on things cosmical. 

1913. June 5. MY DEAR KAPTEYN, I am inviting Dyson, 
Eddington, Chapman, Hills (President R.A.S.), Pickering, 
Hough, and Rambaut to meet you on the afternoon of the 
I7th instant at 3 o'clock. Kindly tell me if there are any 
others you would wish present. Yours ever, DAVID GILL. 

1913. October 31. A little post card from your wife to 
mine tells me that you are once more back on this side of the 
Atlantic, and so I am sending you a copy of my History and 
Description of the Cape Observatory. . . . 

We had a delightful holiday; from July 16 to August 9 
in Wales, and then until September 25th at Pitlochrie, in 
Perthshire, whence my wife returned to London, and I went 
for some deer-stalking in Argyllshire till October i. I got a 
fine stag one day, but had two blank days. The season was 
a late one, so that the big stags had not come down from the 
very high mountains to the ground, only 2000 ft. above the 
sea, on which I was stalking; but I had a rare good time, 
glorious weather, and enjoyed myself hugely. 

I am looking forward to the receipt of a letter from you 
with great interest. 


All of the following letters to G. E. Hale are dated from 
34 De Vere Gardens, Kensington. 

1909. Jan. 5. ... I am looking forward very much to 
Kapteyn's arrival in the hope of hearing all about the wonders 
of your observatory, and the results of his talks with you. 

I have not been very well since the beginning of October 
not seriously ill, but out of sorts, and only able to do the 
things most pressing, and these seem to be continuous 
committees, lectures, Council meetings, surveys, a couple of 
books on the stocks, etc., etc. . . . 

About coming to America next year. My wife is a very bad 
traveller by railway. A considerable railway journey say 
10 or 12 hours knocks her up for at least a week a few such 
would have the most serious results and we are a very Darby 
and Joan old couple who like to be together as much as 
possible. . . . 

This year also I have to attend the Committee of the 
International Bureau of Weights and Measures at Paris, 
March 21 Apr. I, and the Astrographic Congress, Ap. 19-24. 
Between the two we think of going to Italy which we have 
never seen. . . . 

1909. Jan. 19. Kapteyn writes that there is a possibility 
of your coming to Paris for the Astrographic meeting, 
April 19-24. This is glorious news. . . . 

Newcomb writes me that he was on the point of undergoing 
an operation and, tho' he speaks lightly of it I am very 
anxious about the result. 

1909. Aug. ii. . . . I have just been asked to look after 
the construction of a 26 inch refractor of 36 feet focus for 
Innes at the Cape. The Transvaal Gov* has voted the 

1909. Oct. 26. ... Dear old Vogel once said to me at 
Potsdam, " My dear Gill, if you loaf me send me some peetels 
(beetles) from de Cape " Now, if you love me, send me 
some slides. 

1910. April 7. On May 20 I have promised to give a 
Friday evening lecture at the Royal Institution on " The 
Sidereal Universe " and I want to bring together the facts 
that have been recently determined. I. I wish very specially 
to illustrate how " the light of the great nebula in Andromeda 
and of 3 star-clusters has been shown photographically to 


contain a larger proportion of the less refrangible rays than 
the light of stars of the same spectral type." [He adds 3 
more points he wants to illustrate by work done with Hale's 
6o-inch reflector.] 

Amongst other things I wish to make an appeal for 
funds to start a large reflector in the Southern Hemisphere, 
by showing what you are doing at Mxrtmt Wilson. I hear 
that some of the wealthy men in Johannesburg are likely to 

1910. May 15. ... The death of our beloved King has 
thrown the country into the deepest gloom. . . . We had such 
a terribly sad meeting at the R.A.S. on Friday. We did none 
of the usual business, but simply passed, in silence, the 
motions of sympathy and congratulation to the King, and of 
condolence with the Queen Mother and Lady Huggins. 

Huggins' death was terribly sudden. Just one week before 
his death he attended a meeting of a joint committee of the 
Royal Soc. and R.A.S. ... He passed away quietly full of 
years and honour and I am afraid we are not likely to see 
his like again. He has been a true friend to me for 47 years 
. . . the sad state of my wife's health, which Kapteyn will 
tell you all about, is such that I dare not go to the Solar 

It is a very bitter disappointment to me, but there are 
things dearer to a man than any congress, any gratification 
of friendship or the desire to see and know. . . . 

I have such a deep interest in your work, in Pickering's, 
in that going on at Mount Hamilton and at the Yerkes Ob- 
servatory I have so many kind colleagues and friends in 
America that I desire to see all these things are very hard 
to give up. 

1910. Nov. 26. [This is a long and searching criticism of a 
proposed design for the loo-inch reflector, and his own sugges- 
tions. In an endorsement, G. E. Hale fully concurs. The 
subject is discussed, after careful consideration of working 
drawings, in a letter 1911. Feb. 28.] 

On April 12, 1911, Sir David wrote a letter to Hale giving 
a full account of his visits to the St. Gobain's Glass Factory 
to see what progress was being made with the glass disc for 
the great loo-inch mirror. It is endorsed by G. E. Hale with 
this remark : " This letter is one of several which illustrate 
how much we owe to Gill in connection with the loo-inch 
telescope." In the letter he describes the attempt to make 
a disc. 


They had actually cast a full-sized disc of 40 centimetres 
in thickness and after it had been annealed as far as tem- 
perature 55 or 60 Cent, it remained still whole and they 
believed that they had been entirely successful ; but before it 
reached the temperature of the outer air it developed a number 
of cracks as shown in sketch. This disc had been cast in a 
great tank a tank being a distinct thing from a pot, a pot 
being defined as a vessel which could be lifted out of the 
furnace and the central parts of the contents poured into the 
mould; whereas a tank is fixed, surrounded by a furnace 
and the glass allowed to flow into the mould from it. 

After giving technical details of the relative advantages of 
pots and tanks, and the uncertainty of the possibility of 
making a pot large enough to contain the quantity of glass 
required for filling a mould 40 centimetres deep from a single 
pot, he says that any such attempt would require about a 
year to make the pot and probably at least another year 
before all the machinery for lifting and pouring could be con- 
structed, besides time for experiments and for the very slow 

He mentions a suggestion he had made to Mr. Delloye, who 
thought it practicable, of a method, founded upon actual 
experience, for casting two 20-centimetre discs, polishing 
a surface of one plane, the other convex, and moulding them 
together at moderate temperature, excluding air-bubbles 
by that process. He gives details about testing the co- 
efficients of expansion of the two discs. 

It is a long and very interesting technical letter, showing 
intimate knowledge on the subject of glass making such as 
is possessed by few astronomers. 

At this period Dr. Hale's health suffered severely during 
some years from overwork. 

1911. April 13. We came back here from Paris on 
Saturday. I enclose letter to you about the loo-inch 
telescope question. Don't read it if you are not up to the 

1911. October 21. ... I am just running over to Paris 
for a Congress about Nautical Almanacs. 

1912. November 26. ... About our great friend Darwin, 
I fear there is no hope of his recovery. On the morning of 
the I3th instant I got a letter from Darwin's married daughter 


to say that her father had been unable to see me, he was 
practically so low that he could not speak and had been almost 
in a comatose condition, jm the I2th he had rallied consider- 
ably, spoke of me, sent' me his love and his good-bye. On 
the following morning, however, I received a letter from Lady 
Darwin to say that the rally had continued and that he was 
anxious to see me, so I went at once to him and had a talk 
with him for about twenty minutes. 

He began by saying that he knew he had only a few days 
or perhaps a few weeks to live, but that for him the bitterness 
of death was passed and he was content to go, his chief regret 
being that his death would cause his wife so much sorrow. 

He was absolutely and entirely calm, spoke of things 
going on in the scientific world, discussed the War, 1 the Scene 
in the House of Commons on the previous day and even 
cracked some jokes on things in general. It was really splendid 
to see a man so absolutely tranquil in mind under such 

After telling me one or two things he wished me to do for 
him he bade me quietly good-bye, and I fear I shall never 
see him again, but he still continues to linger on, the process 
of exhaustion being apparently slower than was anticipated. 

I shall lose in him one of my best and most trusted friends. 

I am greatly interested in the accounts you give of your 
experiences with the 100 inch disc. ... I am distinctly of 
opinion that a perfect disc of about 20 centimetres thickness 
would be sufficient for your purpose if mounted with the very 
beautiful means of support which are described in the account 
of the 60 inch. 

The getting of glass is a universal trouble just now, I mean 
not, of course, so much for reflectors (at least, up to the size 
of 60") but for refractors of any size above 18 inches. We 
have waited now nearly three years in the hope of getting 
26 inch discs for the Johannesburg telescope. I am also 
looking after a 24-inch telescope for Ristenpart at Santiago 
[Chile] and a 32-inch for Nicolaieff, and all that it is possible 
to do is to encourage Messrs. Chance in every possible way to 
do their best. They are now trying pots of 8 times the 
cubic capacity of their former pots in the hopes of getting 
blocks of uniform glass in the centre of these meltings, and 
they are trying to improve their modes of stirring. I cannot 
tell what has happened to the people in Paris and Jena. 
They must have lost some old hands who had little secrets 
which have died with them or who had more perseverance 
or a higher sense of duty in connection with stirring. I do 
not know what it is but the fact remains that nobody seems 
t 1 The Balkan War.] 


to be able to get large discs of optical glass in the present day, 
and yet not so long ago Mantois was able to provide 36 and 
40 inch discs. 

I am trying to get the History and Description of the Cape 
Observatory out of hand. I have been at it for a long time 
through many interruptions. 

1913. June 17. It is good of you to let me know of your 

I will call about 3.15 at Brown's Hotel on Sunday for a 
short crack. I know it must not be too long. 

This afternoon Kapteyn, Pickering, Dyson, Eddington, 
Russell, Hough, Rambaut, Fowler, Chapman, Schleisinger, 
and Hills were here for a palaver of a couple of hours. 

Kapteyn leaves London to-morrow morning with his wife 
for Mount Wilson. I am sorry to say my wife is very far 
from well. But all news when we meet. My wife joins in 
warmest regards. 

The next letter is endorsed from G. E. Hale : "My last 
letter from Gill." 

1913. Nov. i. I have written a book, the History and 
Description of the Cape Observatory. . . . Dyson is to dis- 
tribute it along with the other publications to be sent to 
Mount Wilson. 

I do not know that you will find anything new in the book 
and yet, though it has cost me a lot of work, I think it is worth 
while to put together in one collective history the brief account 
of the total contribution of the Cape Observatory to Astro- 
nomy, and a description of the new instruments which have 
been erected under my instructions at the Cape. ... I just 
recently returned from Paris, where I had much interesting 
communion with our mutual friend Stratton of your Standard 
Department. . . . 

We spent a delightful holiday, first three weeks at Llan- 
drindod, in Wales, where I drank nasty smelling waters and 
played much golf for the benefit of my constitution, busying 
myself in the mornings with work connected with the book 
which I have been writing, and in particular with the forma- 
tion of the index which appears at the end of it. Then we 
went on the 9th of August to Pitlochrie, in Perthshire, where 
I still employed the mornings on the index, etc., and in the 
usual matters of correspondence, and in the afternoons played 
golf, but with not a few whole days devoted to the fascinating 
process of grouse shooting, and had capital sport on various 
moors in Perthshire and Invernesshire. 

On September 25th I went to Sir Andrew Noble's at Ard- 


kinglas in Argyllshire, where I went deer-stalking for three 
days, but had the luck only to get a shot on one day, the result 
being a very fine 8-pointgr stag. . . . 

I returned to London oh the ist October, and was from the 
6th to the igth in Paris, attending the Committee and Con- 
ference meetings connected with the International Bureau 
of Weights and Measures, where, as I. have already said, I 
met Stratton. 

After that I had a couple of days excellent partridge and 
pheasant shooting, and now, here I am, settled down to work 
for the winter, although I have three days' pheasant shooting 
yet before me. 

With all this I am in capital health. 








Correspondent de I'lnstitut de France (Academic des Sciences) et du 
Bureau des Longitudes (France] ; Foreign Member della Reale Academia 
dei Lincei, Roma; Foreign Member of the Royal Academy of Sciences, 
Amsterdam ; Corresponding Member of the Imperial Academy of 
Sciences, Petrograd. FOREIGN MEMBER of the National Academy 
of Sciences, Washington; of the Royal Academy of Sciences of Sweden; 
of the Societe Hollendaise Nationale des Sciences (Haarlem) ; of the 
American Academy of Arts and Sciences (Boston)', of the American 
Philosophical Society of Philadelphia; of the Italian Spectroscopic 
Society (Rome). HONORARY MEMBER of the New York Academy 
of Sciences ; of the Societe des Sciences de Finlande (Helsingfors) ; of 
the Royal Society of Glasgow ; of the Royal Society of South Africa; and 
First Honorary Member of the Astronomical and Astrophysical Society o/ 
America. CORRESPONDING MEMBER of the Socitte Nationale des 
Sciences, Cherbourg ; of the Sociedade de Geographia, Lisbon, etc. 

Bruce Medallist of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific (1900) ; 
Watson Medallist of the National Academy of the United States (1900) ; 
Gold Medallist of the Royal Astronomical Society of London (1882 and 
1908) ; Royal Medallist of the Royal Society of London (1903) ; Valz 
Medallist of the Institute of France (Acad. des Sciences) (1882). 

Prepared by Mr. W. H. Wesley, Assistant Secretary, Royal 
Astronomical Society. 

D D 4 01 


[As a rule the official publications of the Cape Observatory 
have not been included in this list.] 

Note on Stars within the trapezium of the Nebula in Orion. 

R. A. S. M. N., 1 Vol. 27, 1867, pp. 315-316. 
A suggestion in the use of chronometers, with a view to its 

use in the approaching transit of Venus. R. A. S. M. N., 

Vol. 32, 1872, p. 216. 

On the proposed expedition to observe the approaching opposi- 
tion of Mars. R. A. S. M. N., Vol. 37, 1877, pp. 310-326. 
On the opposition of the Minor Planet Ariadne as a means of 

determining the solar parallax. R.A.S.M.N., Vol. 37, 

1877, pp. 327-333- 
On the opposition of the Minor Planet Melpomene as a means of 

determining the solar parallax. R.A.S.M.N., Vol. 37, 

1877, pp. 412-422. 

Reports of his expedition to Ascension (1877). R. A. S. M. N., 

Vol. 38, 1878, pp. 2-1 1, 57-58, 89-90. 
Observations of Mars obtained at Ascension between July 31 

and September 4 [1877], both inclusive. R.A.S.M.N., 

Vol. 38, 1878, pp. 17-21. 
The determination of the solar parallax. Observatory, Vol. i, 

1878, pp. 7-13, 38-44, 74-82, 101-106, 129-134, 273-280. 
On the progress of the reductions connected with the Ascension 

Expedition. R. A. S. M. N., Vol. 39, 1879, pp. 51-72. 
On the results of Meridian Observations of the Mars comparison 

stars. R.A.S.M.N., Vol. 39, 1879, pp. 98-123. 
On the observations of a Centauri made with the heliometer 

at Ascension in 1877. R.A.S.M.N., Vol. 39, 1879, 

pp. 123-126. 
On a new method of determining astronomical refractions. 

R. A. S. M. N., Vol. 39, 1879, pp. 366-368. 
On the value of the solar parallax derived from observations of 

Mars made at Ascension Island during the opposition of 

1877. R.A.S.M.N., Vol. 39, 1879, pp. 431-437. 
Observations of the great southern Comet, 1880, I., made at 

the Cape of Good Hope, February 2 to February 15. 

R. A. S. M. N., Vol. 40, 1880, pp. 300-301. 
First report [1879] of the Committee appointed to consider the 

question of improvements in astronomical clocks. Brit. 

Ass. Rep., 1880, pp. 56-58. 
Observations of Comet I., 1880, made at the Royal Observa- 

1 Royal Astronomical Society Monthly Notices. 


tory, Cape of Good Hope. R.A.S.M.N., Vol. 40, 1880, 

pp. 623-627. 

Account of a determination of the solar parallax from observa- 
tions of Mars made at Ascension in 1877. R. A. S. Memoirs, 

Vol. 46, 1881, pp. 1-172. 
Annual Address . . . July 30, 1880 [On the determination of 

the Earth's mean distance from the Sun]. 5. Africa Phil. 

Soc. Trans., Vol. 2, 1881, pp. xxiii-xliii. 
Observations of the Comet a, 1880. Ast. Nach., Vol. 98, 1881, 

col. 29-30. 
On the solar parallax derived from observations of Mars at 

Ascension in 1877. R. A. S. M. N., Vol. 41, 1881, pp. 317- 


On the best mode of undertaking a discussion of the observa- 
tions of contact to be made at the approaching Transit of 
Venus. R.A.S.M.N., Vol. 42, 1882, pp. 285-286. 

On the effect of different kinds of thermometer screens, and of 
different exposures, in estimating the diurnal range of tem- 
perature at the Royal Observatory, Cape of Good Hope. 
Meteorol. Soc. Quarterly Journal, Vol. 8, 1882, pp. 238-243. 

On observations of Comets, 1881, II. and III., of Wells' Comet, 
and of the great Comet (b), 1882, made at the Royal Observa- 
tory, Cape of Good Hope. R.A.S.M.N., Vol. 43, 1883, 
pp. 7-19. 

Notes on the great Comet (b), 1882. R.A.S.M.N., Vol. 43, 

1883, pp. 19-21. 

On photographs of the great Comet (b), 1882. R. A. S. M. N., 

Vol. 43, 1883, pp. 53-54; and Paris Acad. Compt. Rend., 

Vol. 95, 1882, pp. 1342-1343. 
On the Victoria and Sappho observations [1882]. Ast. Nach., 

Vol. 104, 1883, col. 55-58. 
Note on some criticisms made by Mr. Stone on the methods 

available for determining the solar parallax. R. A. S. M. N., 

Vol. 43, 1883, pp. 307-315- 
Note on the nucleus of the great Comet (b), 1882. R. A. S. M. N., 

Vol. 43, 1883, pp. 319-321. 
Preliminary account of a telegraphic determination of the 

longitude of the Royal Observatory, Cape of Good Hope. 

R. A. S. M. N., Vol. 43, 1883, pp. 408-419. 
Nouvelles recherches sur les distances des Etoiles. Astronomie, 

1884, pp. 456-459. 

Note on Nyren's determination of the constant of aberration. 

R. A. S. M. N., Vol. 44, 1884, pp. 275-277. 
Observations of Comet, 1884 (Barnard), made at the Royal 

Observatory, Cape of Good Hope. R.A.S. M. N., Vol. 45, 

1885, pp. 45-49, 477- 

On systematic errors in the readings of the circle microscopes of 
the Cape Transit Circle [1884]. R. A. S. M. N., Vol. 45, 
1885, pp. 64-90. 

Observations of Comet, 1884, II. (Barnard), made at the Royal 
Observatory, Cape of Good Hope. Ast. Nach., Vol. no, 
1885, 201-206; Vol. 112, 1885, 187-188; R.A.S.M.N., 
Vol. 45, 1885, pp. 476-477. 

Observations of Comet, 1884, I. (Pons, 1812), made at the Royal 


Observatory, Cape of Good Hope. Ast Nach., Vol. 112, 
885, 141-144; R.A.S.M.N., Vol. 45, 1885, pp. 471-476. 

Observations of Comet, 1884; III. (Wolf), made at the Royal 
Observatory, Cape of Good Hope. Ast. Nach., Vol. 112, 
1885, 257-260; R.A.S.M.N., Vol. 45, 1885, pp. 478-480. 

Mean places of stars observed with Comet, 1882, I., from observa- 
tions with the transit-circle at the Royal Observatory, Cape 
of Good Hope. Ast. Nach., Vol. 112, i'885, 393-396. 

Reply to Mr. Stone's paper on screw errors as affecting the N.P.D. 
of the Cape Catalogue for 1880. R.A.S.M.N., Vol. 45, 

1885, pp. 432-444. 

The Cape Catalogue for 1880 [letter to the Editor]. Observatory, 

Vol. 8, 1885, pp. 176-177. 
Sternschnuppenfall, 1885, November 27. Ast Nach., Vol. 113, 

1886, 369. 

Observations of Comet, 1885, II., made at the Royal Observatory, 
Cape of Good Hope. Ast. Nach., Vol. 114, 1886, 121, 

Beobachtungen des Come ten, 1886 (Fabry), am Cap der Guten 
Hofmung. Ast. Nach., Vol. 114, 1886, 235-236. 

On some suggested improvements in the practical working of 
M. Loewy's new method of determining the elements of 
astronomical refraction. R. A. S. M. N., Vol. 46, 1886, 
pp. 325-328. 

Photographic astronomique. Bull. Astron., Vol. 3, 1886, pp. 161- 
164, 321-323. 

Sur les meilleures dispositions instrumentales pour la determina- 
tion des elements de la refraction au moyen de la methode 
de M. Loewy, Paris. Ac. Sci., C.R., Vol. 102, 1886, pp. 732- 

Recent researches on the distances of the fixed stars and some 

future problems in sidereal astronomy [1884]. Roy. Inst. 

Proc., Vol. n, 1887, pp. 91-106. 
Observations of comets made at the Royal Observatory, Cape 

of Good Hope, in the year 1886. Ast. Nach., Vol. 116, 1887, 

305-316; R. A. S. M. N., Vol. 47, 1887, pp. 277-293. 
Observations of comets made at the Royal Observatory, Cape 

of Good Hope. Ast. Nach., Vol. 117, 1887, 339-340. 
Schreiben betr. Beobachtungen des Cometen, 1888, I., nebst 

Mittheilungen iiber den Fortgang der Durchmusterung des 

sudlichen Himmels und das neue Heliometer. Ast Nach., 

Vol. 119, 1888, 257-262. 
On the occultations of Dollen's list of stars, observed at the 

Royal Observatory, Cape of Good Hope, during the total 

eclipse of the moon, 1888, January 28. R.A.S.M.N., 

Vol. 48, 1888, pp. 297-299. 
The applications of photography in astronomy [1887]. Roy. 

Inst. Proc., Vol. 12, 1889, pp. 158-172; Butt. Astron., Vol. 4, 

1887, pp. 361-380. 

[On recent work at the Cape Observatory ; letter to the Editor.] 

Observatory, Vol. n, 1888, pp. 85-87. 
Note on Investigations on the accuracy of the Paris photographs 

[Astrographic Charts]. Observatory, Vol. n, 1888, pp. 292-296. 
The Photographic Chart of the Heavens [reply to criticism, re 


Catalogue of Stars to the nth Magnitude]. Observatory, 
Vol. n, 1888, pp. 320-326. 

Observations of Comet, 1888 (Encke), made at the Royal Ob- 
servatory, Cape of Good Hope. Ast. Nach., Vol. 120, 1889, 

Elemente des Cometen, 1889 (Davidson). Ast. Nach., Vol. 122, 

1889, 191-192. 

On the determination of errors of graduation without cumu- 
lative error, and the application of the method to the scales 

of the Cape heliometer. R.A.S.M.N., Vol. 49, 1889, 

pp. 105-118. 
Catalogue of Stars to the nth Magnitude [letter to Editor]. 

Observatory, Vol. 12, 1889, pp. 438-440, and Vol. 13, 1890, p. 89. 
Observations of Comet, 1889, IV., made at the Royal Observatory, 

Cape of Good Hope. Ast. Nach., Vol. 124, 1890, 27-30; 

Vol. 126, 1891, 55-58. 
Note on the parallax of & Orionis. Observatory, Vol. 13, 1890, 

pp. 289-291. 
Note on some experiments with the new Cape astrophotographic 

telescope. Observatory, Vol. 13, 1890, pp. 351-353. 
Observations of Comet, 1891, I. (Barnard-Denning), made at 

the Royal Observatory, Cape of Good Hope. Ast. Nach., 

Vol. 128, 1891, 175-176. 
Enteckung eines Cometen, 1892 (Swift, Marz 6). Ast. Nach., 

Vol. 129, 1892, 119-120. 
Observations of Comet, 1892, I., made at the Royal Observatory, 

Cape of Good Hope. Ast. Nach., Vol. 130, 1892, 55-58. 
On the definitive places of the stars used for comparison with 

the planet Victoria in the observations for parallax, 1889. 

Ast. Nach., Vol. 130, 1892, 161-178. 
Observations of occultations of faint stars during the total eclipse 

of the moon on November 15, 1891, made at the Royal 

Observatory, Cape of Good Hope. R.A.S. M. N., Vol. 52, 

1892, pp. 164-168. 

Observations of Comet, 1892 a (Swift), made at the Royal Ob- 
servatory, Cape of Good Hope. R.A.S.M.N., Vol. 52, 

1892, pp. 568-569. 
Methode de montage des plaques sensibles, determination de 

leur orientation, Paris. Comm. Int. Carte du del, Bull., 

Vol. i, 1892, pp. 7-50, viii. 
Note relative au memoire de M. le Prof. J. C. Kapteyn [expose 

de la methode parallactique de mesure. Reduction des 

Cliches], Paris. Comm. Int. Carte du del, Bull., Vol. i, 

1892, pp. 115-124. 
Notes relatives a differents memoires contenus dans le premier 

fascicule du Bulletin du Comite, Paris. Comm. Int. Carte 

du del Bull., Vol. i, 1892, pp. 128-132, viii. 
Expose d'un pro jet de M. J. C. Kapteyn relatif a la determination 

des mouvements propres et des parallaxes d'etoiles, Paris. 

Comm. Int. Carte du del Bull., Vol. i, 1892, pp. 262-264. 
An astronomer's work in a modern observatory [1891], Roy. 

Inst. Proc., Vol. 13, 1893, pp. 402-416. 
On the reduction of distances from heliometer observations. 

Ast. Nach., Vol. 131, 1893, 185-192. 


Observations of Comet, 1892, VI., made at the Royal Observatory, 
Cape of Good Hope. Ast. Nach., Vol. 133, 1893, 193-196; 
R. A. S. M. N.; Vol. 53, $893, pp. 488-489. 

Observations of Comet Finlay, 1893, made at the Royal Ob- 
servatory, Cape of Good Hope. Ast. Nach., Vol. 133, 1893, 

Opposition of Mars, 1892 ; Observations made at the Royal 
Observatory, Cape of Good Hope. R.A.S. M. N., Vol. 53, 

1893, pp. 112-115. 

Observations of Comet, 1893, II., made at the Royal Observ- 
atory, Cape of Good Hope. Ast. Nach., Vol. 134, 1894, 

New variable star in Vela. Ast. Nach., Vol. 135, 1894, 43, 44. 

Beobachtungen des Cometen, 1894 (Gale, April 3). Ast. Nach., 
Vol. 135, 1894, 149-150. 

Mean places for comet-stars observed with the transit-circle at 
the Royal Observatory, Cape of Good Hope, in 1893. Ast. 
Nach., Vol. 135, 1894, 381-382. 

Observations of Comet Tempel (1873, II., 1894), made at the 
Royal Observatory, Cape of Good Hope. Ast. Nach., Vol. 
J 35 1894, 383-384; Vol. 136, 1894, 125-126. 

Observations of Comet, 1894, *II. (Gale), made at the Royal 
Observatory, Cape of Good Hope. Ast. Nach., Vol. 136, 

1894, 123-126; R.A.S.M.N., Vol. 54, 1894, pp. 585-586. 
Remarks on the best method of determining the positions of the 

planets by observation. R. A. S. M. N., Vol. 54, 1894, pp. 


On the investigation of the division errors of the scales of the 
Cape Repsold measuring apparatus, and the determination 
of the errors of the Oxford reseau [1892]. R. A. S. Mem., 
Vol. 51, 1895, pp. 1-27. 

Preliminary note on observations of the minor planet Victoria in 
1889 [1893], Edin. Roy. Soc. Proc., Vol. 20, 1895, pp. 47-49; 
Bull. Astron., Vol. 10, 1893, pp. 248-250. 

Note on the latitude of the Royal Observatory, Cape of 
Good Hope [1894]. R. A. S. M. N., Vol. 55, 1895, pp. 

Meridian observations of Comet comparison stars made at the 
Royal Observatory, Cape of Good Hope, in 1893 and 1894. 
Ast. Nach., Vol. 138, 1895, 331-334. 

Sur 1'orientation de 1'axe optique et du plan de la couche sensible, 
Paris. Comm. Int. Carte du del Bull., Vol. 2, 1895, pp. 102- 

A determination of the solar parallax and mass of the Moon 
from heliometer observations of the minor planets Iris, 
Victoria and Sappho made in the years 1888 and 1889 at 
the Royal Observatory, Cape of Good Hope, in co-opera- 
tion with the observatories of Yale College (Newhaven), 
Leipzig, Gottingen, Bamberg and Oxford (Radcliffe), and 
from meridian observations made at all the principal ob- 
servatories. Description of the heliometers and details of 
the heliometer observations. [Discussion of the triangula- 
tion of the Victoria comparison stars, and the heliometer 
observations of Victoria and Sappho. Combination of 


results and general conclusions.] Cape Obs. Ann..-, 1 Vol. 7, 

1896, pp. 1-72, i 25-403; Vol. 6, 1897, xliii. pp., (Pts. i, 2) 
539 pp., (Pt. 3) 83 PP- (Pt- 6) 32 pp. 

Sur cinq photographies de la region entourant t\ d' Argus, Paris. 
Ac. Sci. C. R., Vol. 123, 1896, p. 29. 

Annual address to the members of the South African Philosophical 
Society, on September 27, 1893. [On the solar parallax.] 
S. African Phil. Soc. Trans., Vol. 8, 1896, pp. xlix-lx. 

First [-fifth] list of double stars discovered at the Royal Ob- 
servatory, Cape of Good Hope. Ast. Nach., Vol. 142, 

1897, 369-374; Vol- 143, 1897, 171-174; Vol. 144, 1897, 
89-94; Vol. 145, 1898, 93-96; Vol. 146, 1898, 369-372. 

New southern variable stars. Ast. Nach., Vol. 143, 1897, 283- 
286; Vol. 144, 1897, 143-144. 

On the mean places and proper motions for 1900 of twenty-four 
southern circumpolar stars. R.A.S.M.N., Vol. 57, 1897, 
pp. 532-533- 

New double stars found at the Cape Observatory in 1896. 
R. A. S. M. N., Vol. 57, 1897, pp. 533-541. 

Propositions pour les valeurs des constantes astronomiques 
[faites a la Conference Internationale des etoiles fonda- 
mentales de 1896], Paris. Bur. Long. Ann., Vol. 5, 1897, 
D., pp. 57-90. 

On the effect of chromatic dispersion of the atmosphere on the 
parallax of a Centauri and Orionis, and on a method of 
determining its effect on the value of the solar parallax 
derived from heliometer observations of minor planets 
[1897]. R.A.S. M. N., Vol. 58, 1898, pp. 53-76. 

Observations of Comet, 1897, I., made at the Royal Observatory, 
Cape of Good Hope. Ast. Nach., Vol. 146, 1898, 203-204. 

On the parallax of Sirius and of a Gruis. R. A. S. M. N., Vol. 58, 

1898, pp. 78-83. 

Nebulae observed at the Royal Observatory, Cape of Good Hope. 
R.A.S.M.N., Vol. 58, 1898, pp. 329-330; Vol. 59, 1899, 

PP- 339, 5 22 - 

Reply to Dr. Rambaut's note " on the effect of chromatic dis- 
persion." R.A.S. M. N., Vol. 58, 1898, pp. 415-425. 
An account of telegraphic longitude operations connecting Aden 

and the Cape of Good Hope in the years 1881 and 1882. 

Cape Obs. Ann., Vol. i, 1898 (Pt. 2), pp. [i]-[68], 1-83, iv. 
On a new instrument for measuring astrophotographic plates 

[1898]. R. A. S. M. N., Vol. 59, 1899, pp. 61-72. 
Note on the effect of wear on the errors of micrometer screws. 

R.A.S. M. N., Vol. 59, 1899, pp. 73-76. 
Observations of meteors made at the Royal Observatory, 

Cape of Good Hope, on 1898, November 13 and 14. 

R. A. S. M. N., Vol. 59, 1899, pp. 109-112. 
Note on the clock Hardy formerly used as the Cape transit 

clock. Ast. Nach., Vol. 148, 1899, 237-238. 
Observations of Comet, 1898, VII., with the equatoreals at the 

1 The importance of this research and one on stellar parallax demands 
their inclusion in this list, although Gill's publications in Cape Observa- 
tory Annals, and other observatory publications are generally excluded. 


Royal Observatory, Cape of Good Hope. Ast. Nach., 

Vol. 149, 1899, 141-142. 
On the discovery of a certain proper motion [letter to Editors]. 

Observatory, Vol. 22, 18^9, pp. 99-100. 

Occupations of stars by the Moon observed at the Royal Ob- 
servatory, Cape of Good Hope in the years 1881 to 1898. 

Ast. Nach., Vol. 150, 1899, 393-428; Vol. 152, 1900, 283- 

On a method of obtaining perfectly circular dots unaffected by 

phase, and their employment in determining the pivot errors 

of the Cape transit circle. R.A.S.M.N., Vol. 59, 1899, 

pp. 125-135. 
Occultations observed at the Royal Observatory, Cape of Good 

Hope, during the lunar eclipse, December 27, 1898. 

R.A.S. M. N., Vol. 59, 1899, pp. 340-341, 522. 
On the presence of oxygen in the atmospheres of certain fixed 

stars [1899]. Roy. Soc. Proc., Vol. 65, 1900, pp. 196-206. 
Observations of comets at the Royal Observatory, Cape of Good 

Hope. Ast. Nach., Vol. 151, 1900, 109-112. 
Observations of Comet, 1899, IV. (Tempel), with the transit 

circle of the Royal Observatory, Cape of Good Hope. Ast. 

Nach., Vol. 151, 1900, 187-190. 
Researches on stellar parallax made with the Cape heliometer. 

Observers : David Gill, W. H. Finlay, W. de Sitter, and 

V. A. Lowinger. Cape Obs. Ann., Vol. 8 (Pt. 2), 1900, 

(i)-(xvi), i B-i 73 B. 
Address delivered at the unveiling of the inscription stone 

of the Victoria telescope, Cape Observatory. Observatory, 

Vol. 24, 1901, pp. 397-402. 
Cape double star results, 1900. R.A.S.M.N., Vol. 61, 1901, 

PP- 575~ 6l 5- 
The spectrum of T? Argus. Roy. Soc. Proc., Vol. 68, 1901, pp. 

456-458 (reprint in R.A.S.M.N., Vol. 61, 1901, appx., 

pp. 66-68). 

The great Comet, 1901 a. Ast. Nach., Vol. 155, 1901, 319-320. 
The great Comet of 1901 as observed at the Royal Observatory, 

Cape of Good Hope. R. A. S. M. N., Vol. 61, 1901, pp. 508- 


Spectrum of t\ Argus. Roy. Soc. Proc., Vol. 68, 1901, pp. 456-458. 
Variable, -n Argus. Ast. Nach., Vol. 155, 1901, 239-240. 
Elemente des Cometen, 1901 a. Ast. Nach., Vol. 155, 1901, 

The Oxford photographic determinations of Stellar parallax. 

Reply to Prof. Turner. R.A.S.M.N., Vol. 61, 1901, 

PP- 5 J 3-52i. 
Meridian Observations of Comet-comparison stars. Ast. Nach., 

Vol. 157, 1902, 95, 96. 
Preliminary note on an apparent rotation of the brighter fixed 

stars as a whole with respect to fainter stars as a whole. 

Ast. Nach., Vol. 159, 1902, 117-122. 
Notes on nebulae observed at the Royal Observatory, Cape of 

Good Hope. R. A. S. M. N., Vol. 62, 1902, pp. 468-470. 
Cape Double Star results, 1901. R.A.S. M. N., Vol. 62, 1902, 

pp. 470-484- 


Observations of Comet, 1903, L, made at the Royal Observatory, 
Cape of Good Hope. Ast. Nach., Vol. 163, 1903, 281-284. 

Geodetic Survey of Rhodesia. Verhandl. Conf. Erdm., Berlin, 
1900-1901, pp. 140-142. 

Observations of Comet, 1903, IV., made with the 7-inch Equa- 
torial of the Royal Observatory, Cape of Good Hope, by 
W. H. Cox. Ast. Nach., Vol. 164, 1904, 139-140 (com- 
municated by D. G.). 

Observations of Comet, 1904 e. Ast. Nach., Vol. 167, 1905, 

Astronomy and Geodesy in South Africa. Science in S. Africa, 
1905, pp. 61-73. 

On the origin and progress of Geodetic Survey in South Africa, 
and of the African Arc of Meridian. Brit. Ass. Rep. for 
1905, pp. 228-248 (also in S. African Journal of Science, 
Vol. i, 1907). 

Observations of the conjunction of Saturn with h 1 Aquarii. Ast. 
Nach., Vol. 172, 1906, 351-354. 

Presidential Address to the British Association at Leicester. 
Brit. Ass. Rep., 1907, pp. 3-26; Nature, Vol. 76, 1907, 
pp. 319-327. (Abstract of ditto, in Observatory, Vol. 30, 1907, 

.. PP- 299-306, 335-339-) 

Uber die Bewegung und Verteilung der Sterne im Raume (Vor- 
trag). Naturwiss. Rundschau, Vol. 22, 1907. 

A possible connection between earthquakes and great waves 
at distant localities. Observatory, Vol. 31, 1908, pp. 407-411. 

Presidential Address on presenting the Gold Medal of the R.A.S. 
to Prof. F. Kiistner. R.A.S.M.N., Vol. 70, 1910, pp. 

Articles Heliometer, Micrometer, Telescope. Encycl. Britannica, 

nth ed., 1909-1911. 
Presidential Address on the award of the Gold Medal of the 

R.A.S. to Dr. P. H. Cowell. R.A.S. M. N., Vol. 71, 1911, 

pp. 368-385. 
The arc of meridian of 30 E. longitude. Verhandl. Conf. Erdmes- 

sung, Vol. 16, 1909, pp. 219-225. 
L'etat actuel de 1'Astronomie. del et Terre, 1907, pp. 345- 

359, 451-459; 1908, pp. 503-511, 562-569. 
The azimuth marks of the Cape transit circle. Observatory, 

Vol. 36, 1913, pp. 134, 135. 

Papers by Sir David Gill and others (joint papers}. 

Gill, D., and Lord Lindsay [Earl of Crawford]. On Lord Lind- 
say's preparations for observations of the transit of Venus, 
1874. R.A.S.M.N., Vol. 33, 1872, pp. 34-43. 

On a new driving clock for equatoreals. R. A. S. M. N., 

Vol. 34, 1874, pp. 35-38. 

On the determination of the solar parallax by observations 

of Juno at opposition. R. A. S. M. N., Vol. 34, 1874, 
pp, 279-300. 

Note on the results of Heliometer observations of 

the planet Juno, to determine its diurnal parallax* 
R. A. S. M. N., Vol. 37, 1877, pp. 308-309. 


Gill, Mauritius Expedition, 1874. Division I. Determination of 
the solar parallax by observations of the minor planet Juno 
(3) at opposition, together with a description of the helio- 
meter used in the observations. Dun Echt Obs. Pub., Vol. 2, 
1877, 212 pp.; Vol. 3, 1885, xii. 

Gill, Sir David, and W. L. Elkin, Heliometer determinations 
of stellar parallax in the southern hemisphere [1884]. 
R. A. S. Mem., Vol. 48, 1885, pp. 1-194. 

Gill, Sir David, and H. Jacoby, On the determination of the 
errors of the Cape Reseau, Gautier, No. 8. Helsingfors 
Acta, Vol. 23, 1897, No. 5, 31 pp. 

Gill, Sir David, and J. C. Kapteyn, The Cape photographic 
durchmusterung for the equinox, 1875. Cape Obs. Ann., 
Vol. 3, 1896, Ixviii + (129) + 649 pp. ; Vol. 4, 1897, xxxi + 
672 pp. ; Vol. 5, 1900, 88 + 671 pp. 

Gill, Sir David, and S. S. Hough, Determinations of personal 
equation depending on magnitude, made with the transit 
circle and the heliometer at the Royal Observatory, Cape 
of Good Hope. R. A. S. M. N., Vol. 67, 1907, pp. 366-380. 

In order to make the above List of Papers more complete as a 
Bibliography, the following works are added : 


Report of the Geodetic Survey of South Africa, executed by 
Lieut. -Colonel W. G. Morris, 1883-92, under the direction 
of David Gill ; together with a rediscussion of the survey 
executed by Sir Thomas Maclear, 1841-48, pp. i.-xiv. [i]-[i73J, 
1-289. 1896. 

Vol. II. Report on a rediscussion of Bailey's and Fourcade's 
surveys, and their reduction to the system of the Geodetic 
Survey, by Sir David Gill, pp. i.-xx. 1-257. 1901. 

Vol. III. Report of the Geodetic Survey of part of Southern 
Rhodesia, executed by Alexander Simms, under the direction 
6f Sir David Gill, pp. i.-xiv. 1-146. 1905. 

Report of the Boundary Survey between British Bechuanaland 
and German S.W. Africa, executed by Lieut. -Colonel Laffan 
and Lieuts. Wettstein and Doering, under the direction of Sir 
David Gill [German and English], pp. i.-v. 1-162. 1906. 

Vol. V. Reports of the Geodetic Survey of the Transvaal and 
Orange River Colony, executed by Colonel Sir W. G. Morris, 
and of its connection, by Capt. H. W. Gordon, with the 
Geodetic Survey of Southern Rhodesia. With a preface and 
introduction by Sir David Gill, pp. i.-xxxvii. 1-463. 1908. 

Revision of the Cape Photographic Durchmusterung, Parts I., 
II. and III., made under the direction of Sir David Gill. 
Cape Obs. Ann., vol. ix. pp. 1-8, 1^-63^, ib-i88b, ic-S6c. 

Gill, Sir David, A history and description of the Royal Observa- 
tory, Cape of Good Hope, pp. i.-cxc. 1-136. 1913. 



Aberdeen, Earl of, 32 

Adams, Prof. J. C.' ( 84, 87; his 
strong support to C.P.D., 176 

Airy, Sir G. B., 55, 57; meets 
Gill at Aberdeen, 84 ; interest 
in Ascension expedition, 87 ; 
opinion of Meteorology, 90; 
letter from, 91 ; on Radcliffe 
Observer, 101 ; letter to, on 
Newall's offer, 103 ; letter to, on 
Mars results, 107; on survey 
of S. Africa, 118; his advice, 
125; Cape report, 127; corre- 
spondence, 129; letter to, on 
death of Sir T. Maclear, 130; 
letter to, on Newall's offer, 133 ; 
letter to, on Heliometer, 133; 
retires from Greenwich, 136; 
photographs of Comet, 1882, 
137; letters to, 138; on 
appointments to Cape, 158, 


Wilfrid, 138 

Albani, Madame, 285 

Allis (photographer), 198 

Ambronn, 104 

Anderson (librarian King's Col- 
lege), 26 

James (schoolmaster, Fove- 

ran), 42 

Andrew, Mrs., Gill's musical 
enthusiasm, 286 

Apps (electrician), 55 

Arrest, H. d', 58 

Ausfeld (Gotha), 55 

Auwers, Prof. A., 55; letter to, 
61 ; on Ascension expedition, 
96 ; close relations, 106 ; under- 
takes reductions of comparison 
stars, 189; goes to Cape for 
heliometer observations, 189, 
268 ; last letter from, 353 ; 
death, 353 

Awdry, Sir Richard, 179 

mathematical intuition, 31 ; 
Gill's visit to Pulkowa, 105 ; on 
Cape Transit Circle, 224; on 
Gill's character, 307 ; on Gill's 
History of the Cape Observatory, 
" Gill's Swan Song," 353. 

Baillaud, Mons. B., letter to, on 
being made Commander of 
Legion of Honour, 345 

Baker, Gerald, early recollections, 
8, 30 

Bakhuyzen, Prof. H. G. van de 
Sande, 184 

Ball, Sir Robert, succeeds Adams, 
213; letter to, on his appoint- 
ment, 213; speech, 214; funeral 
of, 356 

Balmer, Rev. C., 359 

Bannerman, Sir A., 31 

Barnard, Prof. E. E., induced to 

gtiotograph Milky Way from 
ill's success with comet, 1882, 

Bauer, measures photographs for 

parallax, 135 
Black, Alexander (ancestor of 

Lady Gill), 4 

Miss Anne (sister-in-law), 41 

Miss Bessie (sister-in-law) , 

212 ; death, 342 
Elizabeth (n6e Garden) , 

(mother-in-law), 41; death, 


Miss Isobel (Lady Gill), 41 

John (father-in-law), 41 

William, 359 

Bourdillon, Miss, on life at 

Ascension, 95 
Brasier, Professor, 12 
Brodie, John (sculptor), 30, 83 
Brown, Prof. Crum, 186 
Bruce, Colonel, 125 

Dr., 359 

Brunnow, Dr. F., 61 


a t 


Edit), 63. 80 
Caiiuthers, Mis., 

fVj i>^* taHi Right Hon. Joseph, 

sends Gffl to Bairn, 221, 311 
Cfaual, M. de, 68 

Sir Wflbam, 101, 102; 
Air letter to, 

147; letter to, on Board for 
Cape, 159 ; letter to, on Stone's 
162; letter to, on 

to Cape Photographic 
164; ni 
to C-PJX, 175; 


Chrystal. Professor. 

dark, Mr., 26 

Clerke, Miss Agnes, 177; visit to 

Cape, 195 ; letters to, 196-203 1 
letter to, on McQean's visit, 
228; death, 333; various letters 

to. 3^3- 

Mary, letter to, 


Mrs. G9 s 


115, 120. 

C:i:ev: S:r r ^rr, 

Common. Dr. A. A., 184 
Cooke A Sons, 38. 54, 65 

_ i r -<.? i _ JT ~~-~ ~ .- ~~. -_ ~ ~ ; i _ ". '. L - 
about becoming astronomer, 
232, 236, 313; death, 333 

Copeland, Dr. Ralph. 69; letter 
to, 185 

Cottingham. E. T., on clock in- 
vented by Gffl. 244 

Courtney, Mr. (Ministerial Secre- 
tary at Treasury), 158 

Crawford, Countess of, letter to, 

73, 80 

Earl of (25th Earl), invites 

GO! to be Director of Dun Echt 
Observatory, 50 ; urges accept- 
ance of Khedive's offer. 78; 
death, 130 

Earl of (26th Earl), (for- 
merly Lord Lindsay), 39; first 
acquaintance, 40 ; laboratory 
in London, 48; plans Dnn 
Echt Observatory, 52; letter 
from. 55 ; letter to 62 ; 

70; l 




67; anecdote, 
to, on Egyptian 

father's death, 130; death, 

Crawford. Earl of (27th Earl), 102 


DaDmeyer (optician), 64 

Darwin, Sir George, 214 ; secures 
funds to complete survey, 238; 
death, 333 

Davidson. Alexander, early recol- 
lections, ii ; later memories, 

De la Rue, Dr. Warren, assistance 
for establishing Newall tele- 
scope. 132 

De Sitter. Professor. 188 ; account 
of. 234, 236, 357 

: :-:;e- ?-:--: - 5 

Dougal, Dr. (head master Dollar 
Academy). 8 

Douglas (ostrich farmer) 

Draper, Prof. H... letter t 

Duff. Gordon, letter to, 145 

Mrs. Gordon, letter to, 143 

Dyson. Sir Frank. nMnfnjJsfMwg^ 
5 : appointed Astronomer 
Royal, 343; goes with Gill to 
Sir R. Ball's funeral, 356 

EICHEXS (optician). 55 
Elkin, Dr. W. L. T 104; letter 
on NewalTs offer, 132; visits 
Cape, 134; leaves Cape, 140; 
letters to, 140; assisted by 
Gfll to obtain heliometer, 153"; 
letter to, on heliometer negotia- 
tion, 157, 194; letters to, ;:- 
219; letter to, on McClean's 
offer. 226. 236; letter to, on 
financial losses, 334 ; letters to, 
337~~34 I ( on Newcomb's ill- 
ness; telescope for Ristenpart: 
British Association; lectures at 
Royal Institution) ; letter to, on 
optical glass, 349 

Farquharson, Right Hon. Robert, 

32, 359 
Finlay, W. H., 188; domestic 

sorrows, 207 

Foerster, Dr. W., letter from, 242 
Forbes, Prof. George, recollections 

of Hamburg meeting of Ast. 

GeselL, 5 9 



Foster, Sir M., on offer to Gill to 

succeed Adams, 213 
Franklin-Adams, John, 236 
Frere, Sir Bartle, 113; tribute 

from Gill, 115; letter from, 117, 

120, 238 

Frere, Lady, her tact, 114 
Miss Georgina, recollections, 


Fuller, Sir Thomas, 119 
Furze (artist), letter from, 216 


Gibbs, assists Gill at Alexandria, 


Gill, Andrew Mitchell (brother), 
5 ; early recollections, 7 ; at 
Sir David's funeral, 359 

David (father), 3, 4, 5 ; busi- 
ness made over to his son David, 
40; death, 100 

David (brother), dies in in- 
fancy, 5 

Sir David, parentage, 3 ; 

birth, 5; childhood, 6; early 
taste for science, 7; Dollar 
Academy, 7; rifle-shooting, 10; 
love of sports, 1 1 ; Marischal 
College, ii ; Clerk Maxwell's 
opinion, 12; studies mathe- 
matics with Dr. Rennett, 15; 
speech at Aberdeen University 
Club, 16; enters his father's 
business, 18; goes to Switzer- 
land, 19; Coventry workshops, 
20; Clerkenwell, 21; junior 
partner, 23; establishes time- 
signals at Aberdeen, 25 ; first 
acquaintance with telescope, 26 ; 
becomes lieutenant in Aberdeen- 
shire Rifles, 31; rifle-shooting, 
32; buys first telescope, 37; 
photographs the moon, 39 ; first 
acquaintance with Lord Lind- 
say, 40 ; meets the future Lady 
Gill, 41 ; his engagement, 43 ; 
marries Isobel Black, 45 ; ap- 
pointed to Dun Echt, 50 ; invents 
photographic viseau, 56 ; visit 
to Pulkowa, 58 ; proposes helio- 
meter for observations of Juno 
for solar parallax, 61 ; Mauritius 
expedition, 67; geodetic work 
in Egypt, 76; invited by 
Khedive to survey Egypt, 78 ; 
decides to leave Dun Echt, 81 ; 
question of partnership with 
Howard Grubb, 86; Ascension 
expedition, action of R.A.S., 87; 

accident to heliometer, 88 ; sails 
for Ascension, 92 ; awarded Gold 
Medal of Royal Astronomical 
Society, 96; awarded the Valz 
medal, 96; Lines to his wife, 
97 ; candidate for Radcliffe Ob- 
server, 101 ; appointment as 
H.M. Astronomer at the Cape, 
103; Newall offers 25-inch 
telescope to Cape, 103 ; visits 
to foreign observatories, 104 ; 
result of Ascension observations 
107; arrives at the Cape, in; 
his relations with Sir Bartle 
Frere, 115; reports on survey 
of S. Africa, 118; interview 
with Cecil Rhodes, 122; life at 
the Cape, 125 ; buys Lord Lind- 
say's heliometer, 134; photo* 
graphs comet b, 1882, 135; 
commences Cape Photographic 
Durchmusterung, 135; portrait 
painted by Sir Geo. Reid and 
Mr. G. Henry, 139; intimacy 
with Newcomb, 148 ; visit to 
England, 1884, 153; obtains 
Admiralty consent to new 
heliometer, 156; correspond- 
ing member of St. Petersburg 
Academy, 163; Royal Society 
cease to support C.P.D., 164; 
resolves to continue it at his 
own expense, 164; Kapteyn 
offers to measure the plates, 
167; initiates with Mouchez 
Astrographic Congress, 174; 
strong opposition to C.P.D., 
175 (389); his unselfishness, 
1 76 ; hostility of Astronomer 
Royal, 178; cordial support 
of Hydrographer, 179; third 
voyage to Cape, 181 ; obtains 
Admiralty sanction to astro- 
graphic scheme, 183; stellar 
parallax work, 187; determina- 
tion of solar parallax from Iris, 
Victoria, and Sappho, 188; 
Auwers' offer to visit Cape and 
assist in observations, 189; 
determines new value of moon's 
mass, 191 ; Tisserand's testi- 
mony, 192; discouragement by 
Admiralty of his researches, on 
advice of Astronomer Royal, 
192; triumphs over opposition, 
193 5 visit of Miss Agnes Clerke, 
195; corresponding member of 
Berlin Academy, 206; visit of 
Knobel to Cape, 207 ; days of 



sorrow, 208; adopts the three 
sons of deceased sister, 209 ; 
honorary fellow of R. Society 
of Edinburgh, 210; results 
of Victoria observations, 211 ; 
Lowndean Professorship offered 
but declined, 213; illness of 
Lady Gill, 215; visit to Eng- 
land, 219; McClean offers 24- 
inch telescope to Cape, 219; 
made C.B., 220; attends Con- 
gress on National Ephemerides, 
221 ; St. Moritz, 221 ; proposes 
new transit circle, 221 ; dis- 
covers magnitude equation, 
222 ; constructs new azimuth 
marks, 224 ; details of McClean's 
offer, 225 ; visit of McClean to 
Cape, 228 ; geodetic survey, 
231 ; advises Cookson on astro- 
nomical study, 232; visit of 
De Sitter, 234 ; his important 
geodetic work, 237; visit of 
British Association to Cape, 
239; death of Admiral Sir 
William Wharton, 241 ; Member 
International Committee of 
Weights and Measures, 242 ; his 
" perfect " clock, 243 (376) ; 
retirement from the Cape, 244 ; 
three great undertakings suc- 
cessfully accomplished, 245 ; 
made K.C.B., 251 ; Cape politics, 
252; at Natal for Royal visit, 
257 ; visit to Lord Milner, 260 ; 
Carlsbad, 262; illness from 
diphtheria, 267 ; personal anec- 
dotes, 268 ; personal traits and 
tastes, 280 ; love of music, 284 ; 
religious views, 289 ; Gilliana, 
294; first meeting with Hale, 
306 ; love of sports, 309 ; deer- 
stalking, 313; farewell dinner 
at Athenaeum, 317; life at 
34 De Vere Gardens, 320; 
unquestionable greatness of 
his character, 324; President, 
Royal Astronomical Society, 
327; foreign secretary, 327; 
continued scientific activity, 
327; favours vivisection, 328; 
his activities at Astrographic 
Congresses, 332 ; financial losses, 
334; employed by different 
Governments to advise on 
instruments, 334; Christmas 
lectures at Royal Institution, 
335 ; designs telescopes for 
Johannesburg and Santiago, 

338 ; President British Associa- 
tion, 339 ; awarded Gold Medal 
of Royal Astronomical Society, 
341 ; further serious illness of 
Lady Gill, 342; Hon. Mem. 
Astronomical and Astrophysical 
Society of America, 344 ; Com- 
mandeur,_de la Legion d'Hon- 
neur, 345 ; receives German 
order Pour le Merite, 345 ; 
dinner on his seventieth birth- 
day, 347; letter of thanks to 
Cape Staff, 348 ; completes 
History and Description of the 
Cape Observatory, 352 ; awarded 
a Royal Medal, 356; attends 
funeral of Sir Robert Ball, 356 ; 
chill probably caught on that 
occasion, 356 ; last serious 
illness, pneumonia and pleurisy, 
357; death, 358; profound 
sorrow, 358 ; purchased site of 
grave, 358 ; funeral at St. 
Machar Cathedral, Aberdeen, 
359; floral tokens from Cape, 
Greenwich, Paris, Pulkowa, and 
Mount Wilson, 359; memorial 
service at St. Mary Abbot, 
Kensington, 359; Lady Gill's 
description of grave, 359 ; 
Appendix I, letters to Miss 
Agnes Clerke, 363-377; corre- 
spondence with Newcomb, 377- 
387; letters to Kapteyn, 387- 
394; letters to Hale, 395-400; 
list of publications, Appendix 
II, 401. 

Gill, David & Son, 3, 26 

James Bruce (brother), 5; 

on David's rifle-shooting, 10; 
31; letter to, 33; letter to, 
on visit to Pulkowa, 57; long 
letter to, on being made K.C.B., 
shooting experiences, 310 

Lady (wife), parentage, 41 ; 

first impressions of David Gill, 
42 ; courtship, 43 ; marriage, 
45 ; reminiscence of early 
married life, 46 ; Six Months in 
Ascension, 92; her devotion 
at Ascension, 97 ; serious ill- 
ness, 215 ; further serious illness 
342 ; description of Sir David's 
grave at St. Machar Cathedral, 

Margaret (nee Anderson) , 

(grandmother), 3 
Margaret (nee Mitchell), 

(mother), 3, 4, 6; death, 46 



Gill, Margaret (sister), 5; marries 
Rev. H. Powell, 5, 157; death, 

Patrick (brother), dies in 

infancy, 5 

Patrick Gilbert (brother), 5, 

32 ; letter to, 35 

Peter (grandfather), 3, 4 

Gill & Smith, 3 

Gimingham, C. H., 22 

Gordon, General, anecdote, 124 

, Hon. J. H., 32 

Gould, Dr. B. A., letter from, 97; 
letter to, on Cordoba Zone- 
Catalogue, 165 

Graydon (seaman), letter from, 96 

Gresley, Rev. G. F., 290 

Grey, Earl, reminiscence, 43, 120, 
238 ; various letters from, 

Grubb, Sir Howard, 54; letters 
to, 56, 60 (on rSseau) ; question 
of partnership with Gill, 86; 
88; makes McClean telescope, 
228 ; letter to. 344 

Guillaume, his use of the nickel- 
iron alloy, invar, 237 

HALE, DR. G. E., impressions of 
first meeting, 306; last letter 
from, 356 ; various letters to, 

Hall, Harvey, note, 10; Gills 
rifle shooting, 32; attends 
funeral, 359 

Halle, Sir Charles, 285 

Halm, Dr. J., appointed chief 
assistant, 279; letter from, 

Hartwig, Prof. R. E. A., 194 

Haswell, Robert & Son, reminis- 
cences, 21 

Henry, the brothers, 136; letter 
to, on failure to obtain photo- 
graphic telescope, 1 66; optical 
work, 169, 174 

George, portrait of Gill by, 


Herschel, Lord, 193 
Hill, Canon, funeral service at 

Aberdeen, 359 

Hills, Colonel E. H., 347, 358 
Hind, J. R., 61, 87 
Hinks, A. R., anecdotes, 304 
Hough, S. S., 222, 230; chief 

assistant, succeeds Gill as H.M. 

Astronomer, 244, 278 
Huggins, Sir William, Gill's first 

photograph of moon sent to, 

39, 49; interest in Ascension 
expedition, 88 ; on Ascension 
results, 94, 136; letter to, 165; 
death, 333 
Hunter, Colin, 30 

INNES, R. T. A., 236; musical 

recollection, 284 
Israels, Joseph, 30 

JACOBY, H., visits Cape for 
practical work with heliometer, 
206, 236 

Jhalawar, Maharaja of, letter to, 

Jones, Thomas (optician), 26 

KAPTEYN, PROF. J . C. , note, 39 ; 
letter offering to devote some 
years to Cape Photographic 
Durchmusterung, 167; dis- 
covery of two star streams, 168 ; 
first meeting, 171 ; letters to, 
on C.P.D., 176, 182; writes 
obituary, 187; letters to, 212; 
letter to, on Mrs. Gill's illness, 
215 ; frequent visits to De Vere 
Gardens, 321 ; Gill's activities 
at Astrographic Congresses, 
332; letters to, written on 
Gill's seventieth birthday, 346 ; 
various letters to, 387-394 

Kelvin, Lord, first meeting, 22, 
24, 178, 289; his views on 
vivisection, 328 

Kerr, John, his Memories Grave 
and Gay, 84 

Kershaw, Mr., 326 

Key, Rev. H. Cooper, sells re- 
flector to Gill, 37, 86 

Khedive, the, invites Gill to 
survey Egypt, 78 

Kilgour, George, 124 

Knobel, E. B., letters to, on Cape 
work, 146; on Astrographic 
Congress, 172; letters to, on 
Admiralty consent to proposals, 
183; letter to, proposing Miss 
Clerke as Hon. Member of 
R.A.S,. 204 ; letters to, 206-210 ; 
goes to Cape, 207 ; letter to, on 
results of Victoria observations, 
Solar parallax, and Lunar 
Equation, 211; anecdote, 274; 
musical recollection, 284; anec- 
dote of Paris Congress, 304; 
goes with Gill to Sir R. Ball's 
funeral, 356 

Kiistner, Prof. F., 104 




Larmor, Sir J., recollection, 303 

Lecson, Mr., anecdote, 303 

Leonard, Miss, anecdote, 288 " 

Lindsay, Dr. (head master, Dollar 
Academy), 7, 30 

Lord, see Crawford, Earl of 

(26th Earl). 

Loch, Lord, 121 

Lockyer , Sir J . N . , letters from and 
to, on removal of Solar Physics 
Observatory, 351 

Low, Canon W. L., early reminis- 
cences, 44 

Lowe, Mrs., reminiscences of his 
shooting, 319 

Lowell, Prof. Percival, 335 

Lyons, Major, 76 

Lytton, Lady, anecdote, 285 

MACLAREN, LORD, 119, 186 
Maclear, Sir Thomas, in ; death, 


Lady, in 
Miss, 112 

MacMahon, Major, account of Gill 
at International Conferences, 


McClean, Frank, 216; letter from, 
offering 24-inch equatoreal to 
Cape, 225 ; letter to, accepting, 
225; visits Cape, 228 

McGee, Dr. A. Newcomb (" F. B.") 
(daughter of Simon Newcomb), 

Main, Rev. Robert, death, 100 

Markham, Miss V., letters to, 

Marth, A., 147 

Masupha (Basuto chief), 124 

Maxwell, Prof. James Clerk, testi- 
monial from, 12; influence of, 
12; lectures on astronomy, 13; 
proposes wave length of light 
as standard, 13; Gill's venera- 
tion for, 14; reminiscences of, 
17; introduces Gill to Lord 
Kelvin, 22, 30, 289 

Meikleham, Professor, 24 

Meldrum, Charles, 67 

Merriman, Hon. J. X., 119; letter 
on Cape politics, 252 

Merz (optician), 54 

Millais, Sir J. E., 30 

Milner, Lord, conversation with, 
115, 120, 238; letters from, 


Mitchell, A. W. (cousin), attends 
funeral, 359 

Mitchell, Mrs. (aunt), David's 
attachment to his mother, 6; 
reminiscences, 42 

Sir C., 120 

Moir, James, 12 

Morris, Sir W., goes to Cape, 141, 
145; letter from, on Gill's 
recovery, from diphtheria, 

Mouchez, Admiral, 136; organizes 
Astrographic Congress, 169, 174, 

Muir, Dr., appointed Superin- 
tendent-General of Education 
at Cape, 119 

NASH, W. H. HOWARD, letter 
to, on religious opinions, 292 

Nasmyth, James, letter to, 20; 
first meeting, 98 ; anecdote, 
100; promises ^1000 towards 
Newall telescope, 100, 132 

Neate, Commander, 68 

Newall, R. S., generous offer of 
25-inch telescope to Cape, 103, 
107 ; financial support for, 132 ; 
proposal abandoned, 133, 227 

Newcomb, Prof. Simon, first 
meeting, 60, 77 ; visits Cape, 
140, 147; intimacy with Gill, 
148; letters to, 149, 150, 153; 
letter to, on Victoria observa- 
tions and Lunar Equation, 191 ; 
letters to, 192; death, 333; 
correspondence between, 377- 


Nicol, Professor, 16 
Niven, C., 62; attends funeral, 


Noble, Lady, letter to, on deaths 
of Sir Fredk. Richards and Sir 
Geo. Darwin, 343 

Miss, letter to Lady Gill on 

Gill's enthusiasm for sport, 318 

Norman Neruda, visits observa- 
tory, 285 

Northbrook, Lord, 157 

DARY, memorial service, 359 

Perry, Rev. S. J., 147 

Peters, 194 

Petrie.Prof. Flinders, Gill's survey 
of Pyramids, 76 ; anecdotes, 


Phillimore, Captain, 93 
Phillip, John (painter), 30 
Pickering, Prof. E. C., 97 
Pogson, N., 101 



Powell, Bruce, Lieut, (nephew), 

Frederick, Major (nephew;, 


Harry, Capt. (nephew), 209; 

killed at Ypres, 209 

Mrs., see Gill, Margaret 


Power, J., account of heliometer 
negotiation with Admiralty, 
156; on Gill's holidays and 
home-comings, 160; close in- 
timacy, 266 ; interesting notes, 
271 ; letter written on Gill's 
seventieth birthday, 347 

Pritchard, Prof. C., 165, 199 

RAMBAUT, A. A., 341 

Rankine, Miss (nurse), 313 

Ranyell, Miss, 19 

Reid, Archie, 83 

Sir George, 30, 83 ; portrait by, 

*39 *54> 28 1 letters from, 281 

Remenyi (violinist), 285, 365 

Rennett, Dr. David (mathe- 
matical coach), 12; indebted- 
ness to, 15; notes concerning 
Gill, 15; anecdote, 16, 30 

Repsold (Hamburg), 54, 155 

Rhodes, Cecil, 119, 120; Gill's 
impressions of, 122; anecdote, 

Richards, Admiral Sir F., first 
meeting, 112; Gill's indebted- 
ness to, 121 ; stays with, 219; 
death, 333, 341 

Ristenpart, F. W., telescope for, 
designed by Gill, 338 

Ritchie, James, & Son, 25 

Roberts, A. W., reminiscence, 39; 
letter to, 230; letter to, on 
retirement from Cape, 240 

Robertson, Major (of Foveran), 5 

Ross, A., 26 

Donald, 120 

Rutherford, Professor, photo- 
graphed star groups before 1882, 


Ruxton, Dr. J. (cousin), introduces 
Miss Black (Lady Gill), 41 


Gill's religious views, 289 
Salisbury, Lord, 311 
Sangster & Dunningham, 26 
Santley, Charles, anecdote, 285 
Sauer, Hon. J. W., 124 
Sawerthal, H., 200 
Schjellerup, Prof. H. C. F. C., 58 

Schuessler, L., recollections, 20 

Schur, W., 194 

Sidgreaves, Rev. W., 147 

Siemens, W., promises 250 for 
Newall telescope, 132 

Simms, James, letter to, on 
altazimuth, 65, 223 

Smiles, Samuel, 98 

Smith, Sir G. Adam, 358, 359 

Prof. Robertson, 57, 83 

Right Hon. W. H., 103 

Smyth, General L., 125 

Prof. Piazzi, 25 ; letter from, 

on Cape experiences, 108, 155 

Spottiswoode, W., 132 

Stanford, Sir Charles, 287 

Steinheil (Munich), 38 

Stewart, Dr., 231 

Stokes, Sir George, in favour of 
Cape Durchmusterung, 177, 
181 ; his active support of 
astrographic scheme, 183 

Stone, E. J., 101 ; meets Gill at 
Cape, in; his methods criti- 
cized, 162 

General, 76, 78 

Storie, A. J. W., 359 

Struve, Prof. Hermann, 104 

Prof. Otto, letter to, 56, 58, 


TABRUN, A. H., letter to, on the 
Bible and Religion, 292 

Tait, Professor, 289 

Thomson, Prof. David, influence 
on Gill's astronomical career, 
1 7 ; great mathematical teacher, 
24; small observatory of, 25, 
30, 37 

James, 24 

Sylvanus, 48 

Sir William, see Kelvin, 


Tietjen, Prof. F., computes plane- 
tary perturbations, 191, 

Tisserand, F. F., 192 

Trimen, Roland, 112; reminis- 
cences, 302, 303 

Trotter, A. P., anecdotes, 281 

Troughton & Simms, 54 

Tulloch, Dr., 7 

Tupman, Colonel G. L., organizes 
Transit of Venus expeditions, 
66; candidate for Radcliffe 
Observer, 101 

Turner, Prof. H. H., 184 




WALKER, REV. W., 44 Wharton, Admiral Sir W., first 

Walton, Hon. E. H., speech at meeting, 68, 156; effective 

farewell banquet, 308 support of Gill's proposals, 179; 

Watson, Professor,. 75 correspondence, 179; supports 

Sir C. M., 75 /* Gill's application for Transit 

Watts, George, 30 Circle, 221 ; death, 239, 241 

Webster, Mr. (M.P. for Aberdeen), White, James (Kelvin & White), 22 

84 White, J. F., 85 

Wernher, Mr., subscribes to Sur- Wilson, Arthur, 19 

vey Fund, 238 Winnecke", Prof. F. A. T., 104 

Wesley, W. H., account of accident Woods, Ray, 164 

at R.A.S., 88; list of publica- Wooton (clockmaker, Coventry), 

tions, 401 20 



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